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El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency
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El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  2,660 Ratings  ·  274 Reviews
The world has watched, stunned, the bloodshed in Mexico. Forty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it part of a worldwide shadow economy that threa ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Bloomsbury Press (first published September 1st 2011)
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Is this the most beautifully crafted writing about Mexico's drug war? - no. For that it would be better to seek out Charles Bowden or John Gibler. It is, however, the most complete and well synthesized history of the Mexican drug trade available in the English language. And I will say this distinction is all about sources. Ioan Grillo has clearly read all of the most important works of the fearless Mexican journalists who cover the Mexican drug trade, while also undertaking a substantial amount ...more
Mikey B.
This encompasses an excellent historical review of narco crime in Mexico – how it evolved and became more and more vicious.

Mexico has been used as a trampoline (author’s expression) for passage of drugs from Columbia to the U.S. With the suppression of the cartels or drug lords in Columbia (namely Pablo Escobar) the power base shifted to Mexico which also produces marijuana and other stronger narcotics (cocaine and heroin). There are different cartels that compete with each other to transport an
Nancy Oakes
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite, nonfiction
click here to read a really long review; read on through for the short one.

El Narco is truly one of the best books of nonfiction I've read this year. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who's even remotely interested in the topic. I noticed that while looking at reviews I found one where someone calls this book "conspiratorial," "left-wing" and "Anti-American." Don't believe it. The book is frightening in its implications, because it's all too real, but the facts are well presented and
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, 2011
A concise and thoughtful book that provides an excellent background into the violence that has gripped the border as the "drug wars" have escalated in the recent years.
Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Death Trade

"The dead can't cry out for justice. It's the duty of the living to do so for them."

Mexico's drug cartels. After Islamic terrorists, they're quite possibly the most powerful and dangerous criminals on the planet. Hundreds of millions of dollars have allowed them to buy the firepower necessary to make utter mincemeat of the civilian law enforcement which tries to go after them. And then there's human rights violations they commit which have sealed them a place in the public consci
Ken Brimhall
May 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

More than Society Permits

Whenever I review books about the Drug War, the carnage in Mexico, few seem to care. Is it the ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand-syndrome, or is it the “I got my blow, my weed. Now get off my back,” mentality? Perhaps it’s my pedantic tone. I try not to rail, but when one is familiar with the torture, brutality, senseless beheadings and acid baths, all for control of prohibited drug sales, then one loses one’s propriety. We permit the Drug War (useless billions spent eve
Christian Olson
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a thing for non-fiction history books with a fair amount of violence.....I liked this book. The beginning and end of the book lack a degree of pacing but I thought the amount of research was impressive. This portion of our recent history is under-reported or sound bite fodder on the evening news, but there is a good amount of depth to this book. The author takes the time to break down different factions of the narco gangs, as well as a good historical perspective of each. I think it is go ...more
Greg Maxon
Very informative book about the Mexican drug war. Written by a journalist, it has the feel of an extremely long (but interesting) magazine article on the history and evolution of the Drug Trade in the Americas. Would not describe as a book that couldn't be put down, as the narrative does not include characters you follow/get attached to. The book sets up nicely for sporadic reading though as each chapter has a unique angle that does not require you to have read/retain the prior chapter. Like I s ...more
RATING: 3.5 Stars

Definitely a heavy read - no happy ending here!

Ioan Grillo is a well-respected journalist who has been reporting from Mexico for over a decade. Here, he tackles the North American Drug War, but more specifically, the cultural aspects of one of the most dangerous criminal movements around - El Narco.

This book is unique in that it focuses on the culture of drug trafficking and violent crime in Mexico, rather than overarching political and economical debates. He clearly shows h
I picked this book because it was the most lauded of the recent crop of English-language books about the Mexican Cartels. I was not disappointed. I have been following this issue for some time now through both newspaper investigations and more systematic assessments like those at InsightCrime and Small Wars Journal. But while the gruesomeness and the severity of the Mexican DTO problem is nothing new to me, Ioan Grillo highlighted several misconceptions that I had gathered from other (usually re ...more
Amalia Danciu
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
nu credeam vreodată că îmi va plăcea atât de mult o carte în care tema principală este istoria
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oh, "El Narco", how I wished I liked you more.

I had high hopes for this book after listening to its author, Ioan Grillo, wax eloquently and authoritatively about the Mexican Drug War on the radio some months back. I wanted to understand the senseless - literally, I can't wrap my head around it - killings of over 35,000 people over the past few years by various Mexican drug cartels who went from nearly unknown in the 1980s to some of the most feared gangsters today. In some ways, the book does pr
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I wanted to understand better the drug trafficking situation in Mexico. My knowledge about the subject was really scarce and mostly based on newspaper articles. The only other book I read about the subject was Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s “La Reina del Sur”. I think “El Narco” was a great reading choice as Grillo provides us with a very detailed analysis of this phenomenon.

I was a bit biased about the fact that he is not Mexican, thinking that he may not be able to under
While it certainly seems the Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, has performed his do-diligence by risking life and limb (sort of) by reporting from the field and interviewing the people involved on both sides of the issue, he ruins it by employing slang/street terms to describe them in his narrator's voice. I guess with the goal of impressing us all of his street cred. I was hoping to gather more information about a complex and horrific issue from a clear-eyed ...more
Abuela Linda
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Grillo risked his life to obtain incredible interviews with major and minor players in the drug wars, which he describes as major insurgencies not just "wars." The demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. is fueling these insurgencies, as is weak government in the countries of origin. The narcotraficantes are expanding to include major extrapolation industries such as illegal logging, siphoning off oil from pipelines and selling it abroad, kidnapping, preying on indocumentados trying to cross Mexico ...more
Krista Danis
Hugely informative but lacking in a structured argument, El Narco provides a factual backdrop to the cartel situation in Mexico and the cultural and class institutions that perpetuate it. Unfortunately, Grillo cannot hide his uninformed biases and carries on with banal references and snarky quips that made me feel like I was reading one of those political banterings that crop up so frequently these days.

According to Grillo, the Nixon-era war on drugs and subsequent aggressive Mexican policy is n
Laurel Starkey
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Narcos is a book that's easy to read yet easy to put down and walk away from. He's written a series of self-contained chapters that paint vivid and important aspects of the narco-world. Like the British soccer fan sicario in Columbia who follows British dance crazes in his spare time. Or the La Familia cartel which is so religious that it created its own Bible and ideology to give its violent business a higher calling.

Ioan Grillo's analysis of why Mexico has been unable to rid itself of this pa
Jennifer Jarrell
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: true crime fans, anyone desiring a deeper knowledge of current world issues
Shelves: first-reads
As a huge fan of true crime, I was thrilled to receive this book via FirstReads -- and it did not disappoint.

El Narco is a well-written, well-researched exploration of the criminal insurgency threatening to overtake Mexico. Living in the Northeast, my comprehension of the severity of the organized crime epidemic south of the border was limited to occasional CNN headlines and Hollywood movies. I was unaware of the scope of this problem, and the potential global implications, of a Mexican drug car
Les Gehman
El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo is an outstanding chronicle of the Mexican drug war. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding why there is such a drug war, how it started, and why it's not going to go away anytime soon. Thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's for a chance to read this excellent book.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. Grillo has dedicated enormous amounts of time and energy to examining a whole variety of aspects of the growth of Mexican drug violence (interview subjects range from former presidents to street level dealers and assassins). What's even more impressive is his ability to translate dense & detailed material into clear and engaging prose. Notes and further reading sections are also excellent.
Oct 07, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I am glad that I won a First Reads copy of "El Narco". With living in Tucson for so many years the boarder war was always in the news. Maybe this book will shed some new light on this subject. Looking forward to starting this book!
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to know more about drug cartels in Mexico and central America, if you are keen to find out what is really driving Mexico's economy and why some of the biggest american banks survived the financial crisis in 2008, this is the book.
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Grillo tediously describes awful murders scenes for most of this book! Was hoping for more economic, political, cultural analysis...
Damian Polanco
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good book. Good read. Charles Bowen is a better writer in my view. This book covers a lot of information about the cartels and drug culture in Mexico.
Related to 2666 (this is going to be a very depressing bookshelf)
Hs Outlaw
Aug 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good...probably the most informative and quick moving book on Mexican drug cartels I've read.

Quick read too.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After decades of journalistic silence around the narcotic trade routes across the Americas, the past few years has seen some excellent work - very profound work, around broken lives in and around the drug trade. This was led most visibly by David Simon, through the very excellent The Wire (which was in turn inspired by his two excellent non-fiction books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. (It is relevant to bring in David Sim ...more
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El Narco is to the 2000s and 2010s what the book Cocaine Politics was for the 1980s and 1990s. It provides a wealth of detail on what is happening in the drug war, why, where, who is involved, and how it came to be. The author makes a number of key points and makes them well.

First, he describes why the drug war in Mexico has quite recently (since 2004) become so violent. I know about the escalation in violence but not why the violence in places like Juarez had gotten so bad, so quickly. This was
Vartan Indjeian
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up with Ciudad Juarez I picked up this book with the hope of finding a well written and well researched insight into the development and explosion of the violence in Mexico in recent years. This booked managed to completely hit the mark. Ioan's depth of understanding of the Narco origins and history was what I was expecting to be able to gain a much better understanding of the social, business and violent characteristics of these groups. What I was completely surprised by was the way thi ...more
Mark Zodda
Interesting, but a little dated (published in 2011), the book provides a fascinating look at the cartels that control Mexico's drug trade and have been waging war in the country. Slow moving at times, I would like to see Grillo's take on how things have progressed over the six years since the book was published.
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I’m a journalist, writer and TV producer based in Mexico City. I’ve been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media including Time Magazine, CNN, The Associated Press, Global Post, The Houston Chronicle, PBS NewsHour, Al Jazeera English, France 24, CBC, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, Gatopardo, The San Francisco Chronicle and many others. El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgenc ...more
More about Ioan Grillo...
“The growing policy-reform movement is a broad church. It includes everyone from ganja-smoking Rastafarians to free-market fundamentalists and all in between. There are socialists who think the drug war hurts the poor, capitalists who see a business opportunity, liberals who defend the right to choose, and fiscal conservatives who complain America is spending $40 billion a year on the War on Drugs rather than making a few billion taxing it. The movement can’t agree on much other than that the present policy doesn’t work. People disagree on whether legalized drugs should be controlled by the state, by corporations, by small businessmen, or by grow-your-own farmers, and on whether they should be advertised, taxed, or just handed out free in white boxes to addicts.” 5 likes
“But the ugly truth is that a huge number of weapons made or sold in the United States go to Mexican cartels. This is an irrefutable fact. Mexico itself has almost no gun stores and weapons factories and gives away few licenses. Almost all weapons in the hands of cartel armies are illegal. In 2008, Mexico submitted the serial numbers from close to six thousand guns they had seized from gangsters to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. About 90 percent, or 5,114 of the weapons, were traced to American gun sellers. The ATF and Obama administration acknowledged America’s responsibility in this tragedy. But the gun lobby still refused to concede the point. What about tens of thousands of other seized weapons in Mexico that hadn’t been traced? gun activists said. The Mexican government, they alleged, was only tracing guns that looked as if they had come from America to sway the debate. So to make it easier to trace weapons seized in Mexico, the ATF introduced a new computer system. Between 2009 and April 2010, this traced another 63,700 firearms to U.S. gun stores.18 And those are only the ones they have captured. People can argue endlessly about the exact percentages, but the underlying fact is that tens of thousands of guns go from American stores to Mexican gangsters.” 2 likes
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