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Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  496 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Praise for Merchant of Death"A riveting investigation of the world's most notorious arms dealer--a page-turner that digs deep into the amazing, murky story of Viktor Bout. Farah and Braun have exposed the inner workings of one of the world's most secretive businesses--the international arms trade."
—Peter L. Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know

"Viktor Bout is like O
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 1st 2007 by Wiley
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  496 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Jun 22, 2016 rated it liked it
The book has valuable information/data but is awfully written.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lord Of War movie (Nicolas Cage) was based on this book. Fascinating story on the end of the cold war businessman/profiteer/opportunist (but what else is business? not my fault those words have negative connotations) Viktor Bout. Insightful about the global arms trade but more insightful to the post cold war end that created opportunity for slick businessmen like Bout (same as the Oligarchs). Bout filled a need for products and services to customers while disregarding international laws. Bout fi ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Steve Franklin
Merchant of Death was amazing for how seemingly easy it is for a smart arms merchant with skill and experience to succeed because of the lack of national and international coordination and will to bring the thug to justice. Countless deaths, including American lives and those of children, were facilitated by this unindicted criminal.
Christian Roeder
Sep 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Very interesting topic but without much structure. What strikes me at times is the repetitiveness. Whole paragraphs or sentences seem to appear twice.

A good read, though, if you are interested in the topic and not too much after literary skills.
Kathleen McRae
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was a pretty dry read but interesting too
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Rambles a bit, but interesting
Vinayak Malik
Oct 22, 2018 rated it liked it
In hindsight convenient scoundrels become despicable villains. Nothing new to the story
Daniel Gildner
May 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
Very choppy. Writing and research is good... editor should be sent to one of the war torn countries outlined.
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
Packed with facts, reasonably well put together, I found Douglas Farah’s and Stephen Braun’s recounting of an arms merchants career interesting, yet not a compelling read. In fact, I could not finish the epilogue.

Now, it’s not poorly written; it’s very very dry. full of details, there is only a smattering a narrative here and there, reducing the book to a list of events, facts and historical references. That’s not a bad thing, just not my favorite read. Now, I have to admit, I learned quite a b
Nov 30, 2008 rated it liked it
I really rate this book more like a 2.5 stars. It is very factual--both on the black market trade as well as the politics of 20-21st century Africa. This makes it a bit dry at times, but that is what the book is supposed to be. Those that are looking for the action of the Nicholas Cage movie will be disappointed.

It wasn't horrible, but I felt it was very skewed. I would have enjoyed it more except for the glaring fact that the United States was getting the majority of the blame for what Victor B
Jan 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: military, history
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 Un
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Viktor Bout is really amazing. This guy was quietly running guns and weaponry to pretty much every third-tier petty dictator in Africa, helped arm both the Taliban and warlords like the Lion of Panjshir in Afghanistan--all the while shipping legitimate goods like chickens, flowers, and fruits. He even managed to wrangle a few government contracts shipping supplies into Iraq for the U.S. It seems that every country condemns illegal arms trades, but only a few take consistent action on it, and the ...more
Mar 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Russian studies, African studies, international relations types
Recommended to CarrieLyn by: NPR interview with one of the authors
I became interested in Viktor Bout, the subject of this account by two journalists, after he was arrested in March of this year in Thailand. For years, he has provided excess Soviet arms to all sides of various conflicts in Africa and the middle east. The book points out the failings of national governments and international organizations to stop him. Clearly what he did was immoral, but it was hard to really call it illegal. I have since read the NYT Magazine interview with him that was publish ...more
Sep 20, 2007 rated it liked it
I wish there were half stars because this should really be 3.5 and is a recommended read. Story of Viktor Bout really interesting, but at the time the book was written there was still not a lot known about the man - just his business - and that detracts from the book. The story can sometimes be repetitive, too and it just doesn't always come together. He's since been arrested, which the book doesn't quite get there, but it does document the US's sporadic involvement in tracking Bout down. It is ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Ever wonder where those guns that them boys down the corner have come from? Or where those AK47's that the guards at the bank carry, or the M16s that local bodyguards sling around? Ooops, sorry, if you are in the States this is probably not a concern. But for third world countries, ask again...Local headline: "Stash of AK47s and ammo headed to Colombia's FARC'" Huh? Honduras exporting Russian made kalashnikovs? But even if you happen to hear shots in the night and wonder about guns in general, t ...more
Nov 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Really only for those with more than a passing interest in the subject. Shows the workings of international intelligence and criminal smuggling as extremely complex - writing is utilitarian in order to keep up with such complicated webs (could have used a map or two).

(Scary thing is how it shows yet another example of the Bush administrations bungling and, ultimately, complicity in Viktor Bout's empire. Might have been an unintended subtext but the author points out how the Clinton administratio
Oct 19, 2007 rated it liked it
A very important that details in general the rise of Russian business/crime oligarchs specifically one Viktor Bout. After the fall of the Soviet Union Mr. Bout leveraged his intelligence and military backgrounds to snatch up decrepit transport planes and connect them with out of work munitions factories, creating a worldwide network of arms trafficking. Many of the fratricidal wars in West/Central African have used weapons delivered by Bout's network.

While it is important to document the atrocit
May 28, 2008 rated it liked it
The Nicholas Cage movie Lord of War, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was based on this book. Here, the writing was clunky and overly fact driven, like an extended newspaper article. I even skimmed the final third of the book. But I give it three stars because it tackles an issue that is the root cause of so many other issues that our media gives prominence: the war on terror; a nuclear Iran; poverty in Africa; the drug trade. The book details the rise of one of the most powerful men perpetuating all ...more
Jul 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic, albeit academic, book about Viktor Bout, the notorious international arms trafficker. The book also serves as a timely prologue to Bout's detainment in March 2008, an event that will likely be addressed in subsequent versions/publications of the book. Farah keeps the material interesting in his journalistic approach, yet also stays objective in not offering a condemnation of Bout, only raising questions and examining the evidence. In fact, while reading the book, I couldn't ...more
Caroline Mulwa
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting coincidence that Viktor Bout was sentenced while I was in the middle of reading this book. Watching the story of his sentencing on the news made me realize all the more that what I was reading was not just a tale about one of the world's most notorious arms dealer - but a tragic true story. Viktor was sentenced to 25 years in prison (the minimum sentence)for conspiring to sell weapons to a U.S. designated foreign terrorist group.
The book is a page-turner that digs deep into the amazi
Tim Juchter
Dec 19, 2007 rated it liked it
It's a relatively scholarly treatment, which is making it a bit dry to get through, but as a factual companion to Lord of War (Nicolas Cage's character was inspired by Viktor Bout, the subject of this book), it's very informative.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how it shines a light on the law of unintended consequences: victory in the Cold War--the fall of the Soviet Union--made Bout passible. In turn, he made possible much of the chaos in Africa in the last 15 to 20 years, not to mention
Len Gilmer
The movie "Lord of War" starring Nick Cage was based on the real life character in this Book. This guy has managed to supply every continent on the globe with assualt rifles,rpg, tanks and even aircraft. This book delves into the complexities of wars forgotten by the american media waged everyday in Africa and the Middle East. This guys has supplied both sides of civil wars and travels with a gemologist to collect payments. This book is informative, insightful and most of all scary
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
A very comprehensive book about the illegal arms trade and the man on top of it all, Victor Bout. The authors definitely did their research, and through the book you have the feeling you are right there amongst all the deals, the deliveries, and the organization. I was surprised at the love/hate relationship between Victor and the US.
Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Intriguing to learn about Victor Bout's business supplying nasty regimes, rebel factions, etc with deadly weapons. There was a little too much detail re the people and institutions behind pursuit of him. I skipped the second half and went straight to the epilogue. Once I've read that I'll have to look online, because I believe he's since been captured (extradicted?)
Fausto Betances
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Highly entertaining this book provides insight into a world that sometimes escapes the scrutiny of main stream society. If there was any shortcoming it was the fact that it was too short. I figure that's probable what made it good as the author avoided filling pages with irrelevant information just for the sake of volume. Disappointment-proof in my view.
Oct 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in gun running
These authors collect enough information to develop a rather good, although sparce, life of a very interesting mobster. It's amazing how many countries he has managed to get into and essentially destroy thought gun running.
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Very very good and in plain English. The way arms deals go down, how this one man - completely without conscience - sold to both sides in an untold number of civil and interstate battles. Now that he's been caught on legit charges, it's an even better read.
Jul 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
An interesting tale of a non-fictional gun-runner who evades international law. The book is well-researched, but the footnotes are done in a way that don't detract from the story. It got a little slow at the end.
Nov 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I was happy to hear the man just had his day in a Manhattan court. Arrested in Thailand, it will be interesting to see the case as it is presented.
The book was an account of his life and the extraordinary success Mr. Bout enjoyed as the world's premier merchant of Death!
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
An incredibly eye opening look at the most infamous gun runner, Viktor Bout. The book is incredibly well researched, although severely in need of an update after Bouts arrest and subsequent imprisonment in Thailand as part of a DEA sting in 2008 and extradition to America late last year.
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