Nathaniel's Reviews > Among the Thugs

Among the Thugs by Bill Buford
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Dec 06, 2009

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in November, 2009

At its finer moments, “Among the Thugs” conveys a powerful and contagious desire for violence. Maybe this is easier to do than I realize—many Hollywood films fill me with bloodlust and I’ve got enough disdain for hooligans to think they deserve one another—but Buford walks a fine line. He’s keenly aware that he could write a jaw-breaking work of pure sadistic voyeurism; but he largely refrains from doing so.

He dips into the mayhem enough to establish his credibility and by highlighting instances with totally innocent victims or prolonged, lopsided beatings, he ensures that his readers can’t romanticize or dismiss the violence. But, more often than not, Buford turns soberingly away from the spectacles that he spends dozens of pages deftly working up to. For instance, after a long and gripping description of two rival firms chasing one another around Fulham in an effort to find an area with no police presence that they could use to knock one another senseless, he writes, “I will not describe the violence because what I want to depict is this precise moment in its complete sensual intensity—before chronology allows the moment to evolve into its consequence.” A few paragraphs later he writes (and it really feels like he’s rubbing it in your face that he won’t tell you what happened), “Crowd violence was their drug. What was it like for me? An experience of absolute completeness.”

Here is Buford’s niche: “Crowd theory tells us why . . . but crowd theory rarely tells us what: what happens when it goes off, what the terror is like, what it feels like to participate in it, to be its creator.” It’s a bold and eccentric task to set oneself as an independent journalist; but Buford seems to pull it off. “Among the Thugs” is written from a rare and imbedded perspective; it spills over with pathetic and villainous drunks and it made me unusually sympathetic to law enforcement professionals all over Europe.

Because it stuck in my mind, I leave you with this sentence, “For Neil the evening represented a chance to prove himself, and, if things went wrong, then his career as a fascist would advance no further.”
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