Rachel's Reviews > Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Merchant of Death by Douglas Farah
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's review
Jan 02, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: military, history
Read in December, 2008

This book is a careful documentation of the world (mostly US) governmental pursuit of Viktor Bout over the last 10 years. It's not for everyone -- it reads more as a compilation of events than as a story, and is very detailed. But the authors have put some effort into making it readable, and the story itself is fascinating.

Viktor Bout is the head of an international flight organization, which has been used by most major dictators and terrorists as a vehicle for arms transport. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Bout (a former member of the Soviet military) bought up a number of unused planes, and began to arrange cargoes for them, expanding steadily as his customers discovered that he was completely reliable and totally amoral. He has shipped arms to the Taliban, South Africa, and Charles Taylor in Liberia, but has also taken contracts to ship supplies to the US troops in Iraq and relief shipments to Indonesia after the tsunami. His success seems to come from an absolute focus on profit, an excellent business sense, extreme paranoia and privacy, and possibly connections with the Russian ex-KGB organizations.

Bout was recently arrested in Thailand via a US sting (US agents posed as representatives of FARC), but the book was released before that, when he was still at large. And, as the authors point out, Bout was actually given US contracts to fly for the military (mostly through Haliburton, it seems -- anyone surprised?), so the US is as reluctant as every other government to take him down -- we'll see how long he stays caught. Extradition process is ongoing.
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