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A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  408 ratings  ·  55 reviews
This is a book about one of the deadliest places in the world

El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by t
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Verso (first published November 10th 2015)
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Jan 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first started practicing law, I was assisting a senior attorney in his defense of a gang member. I asked, with bold and ignorant naiveté, “what gang?”

“MS 13” he replied simply, no doubt expecting that to be sufficient.

“What’s that?” I asked, dripping green from my shiny new suit.

The older lawyer (now a judge) looked at me with an ironic smile and said, “I’ll tell you what, when you get home, Google it.”

I did and my wife immediately demanded that I get a new job. The defendant, a quiet man
Jeannette Nikolova
Read on the WondrousBooks blog.

This book is very informative and gives the reader a wide perspective of the lives people live in countries the existence of which gets forgotten on my side of the ocean. If you've ever wondered what life in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is like, this is the book for you, but beware - it's bloodier and more nightmarish than you can even imagine. In fact, this is a life which can arguably be called worse than the one in war-torn countries like Afghanistan,
This book is a collection of articles composed by Martinez over several years of reporting on organized crime and their tentacles in narcotrafficking, corruption, immigration, the prison system, and human trafficking in Central America.

The book is loosely structured around the dealings of two allied gangs, MS and Los Zetas, and their dominance in the Central American culture, and everyday dealings. Martinez recounts the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) in California prisons in the 1980s, and t
Tim Hoiland
Oct 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
When people learn I was born and raised in Guatemala, I have come to expect one of two reactions. First, wide eyes and a “Wow, that must have been crazy.” Second, though far less frequently, maybe a story about visiting the colonial city of Antigua or of volunteering at an orphanage near Lake Lake Atitlán once. And that’s about it.

Even though Central America is very close to us geographically, and though our histories are bound up together, for various reasons most people in the United States kn
I've been a book bulldozer this past week. This is one of the books that I devoured in a couple days. At first I thought no way am I going to read this all at once, it was way too information dense. There were places and names that I was unfamiliar with, too many drug cartels to keep straight. But I soon found a rhythm, and often people who appeared in early reporting, showed up again in another article, and I got caught in the flow.

This book concentrates mostly on El Salvador and Guatemala, wit

Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazingly timely reminder of the continuing damage of US intervention in Central America. An essential read to understand contemporary drivers to Central American mass migration.
Justin Burkholder
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Hard to read but important to understand. Before you emit an opinion about Central America, immigration, or any other sociopolitical facet related to the region, it is important to understand the dynamics of many who suffer. Martinez paints the bloody reality that many people face right outside their door, inflicted by parasites that are sucking the life out of their own countrymen.
May 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is a review of the English translation of Martinez's book.

If I had known this was a translation I never would have purchased it. Whoever did the translation here did not do their job. It's a shame, because an otherwise well-researched and valuable book has been rendered unintelligible--so much so that while reading, without knowing this was a translation, I felt my suspicions aroused and leafed to the front of the book to see, and--sure enough!--it was a translation. If a translation is do
Vishal Misra
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"A pickpocket who steals a cell phone can be sentenced to between six and ten years. A man who sells another man to Los Zetas, only four." This sobering sentence from the penultimate paragraph of Martinez's book is a great summation of this work. At its depressing nadir, it is a tract of despair, however, within that despair, Martinez gives voice to some of the most voiceless vulnerable people in the world.

"A History of Violence" is a deeply readable collection of essays by the journalist Oscar
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it
This is required reading for anyone that has formed an opinion of the group of migrants that recently traveled to the US border that Trump has made such a fuss over. This is especially so if you've idiotically referred or thought of them, generally, as "invaders." If you don't want to dedicate much time to informing yourself, read chapters 13 and 14. Ask if the people in these stories are "invading" the US and ask what you would do in the same scenario.
My only complaint is the repetitiveness
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A brave and informative look into the underreported stories of Central America. I have an immense respect for the author, Óscar Martínez, who has put himself in great danger on multiple occasions to get these stories straight from the source, whether they be victims of trafficking, gang members, or city officials. The writing itself is incisive and clear, evoking emotion without sacrificing its journalistic neutrality.

That being said, the book is essentially a collection of longform journalism
Joe Ruvido
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am lucky to have the things I have, due to nothing more than the fluke of my being born a bit farther north than where this book takes place.

I honestly cannot believe some of the things I read in this book. This was not the first time I have heard or read the stories of why people are fleeing to the US from Central America. However the way in which author writes about all of the players in this awful game makes you feel at first like you're reading one of those nifty crime novels but in fact y
Aug 31, 2018 rated it liked it
A very grisly and immersive set of essays on gangs and violence in Central America. The essays are all mostly independent, seemingly picked from previously published works by the author, and loosely organized around certain themes (absence of the state; the irrationality of actions; impact on average people).

It can be a bit difficult to follow some of the essays, as there isn't much context given about anything, in terms of local history or politics, and instead are jammed full of the details o
Julia Hazel
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is a compilation of articles previously published in an online journal. Martínez's detail and thorough, risky journalism sheds light on just how deep corruption runs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. I would like to read more about the lives of everyday people in these countries. This book focuses on the police, the gangs, and the drug networks. It is a complex subject and Martínez draws lines between incidents going on now and U.S. policy decades ago. He grounds each article in ...more
Susan Pearson
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Although this book was non-fiction and the title reveals the details of what it is about, I was quite surprised at the depth of gang violence and lack of law enforcement control. Story after story of non-stop killings and retaliation of gang violence.

Towards the end of the book, there were some stories that were not as grewsome, yet still had hints of horrific violence.

It is no wonder that the people of Central America are desperate to get out. And while the gang violence is very prevalent and
Alexander Wilson
Apr 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
14 chapters about 14 nonfiction people in Central America. Oscar Martinez writes engagingly about those people as they live, die and get by in an area over run by drugs, gangs, organized criminals, official corruption and poverty. Many of the people there want to come up to the United States to escape their circumstances, but as pointed out in the book, the gangs were formed in the United States and somehow foisted onto the people of that region. As you can guess, I am not sympathetic to people ...more
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a stark and vivid depiction of the tragic situation in Mexico and Central America. The horrific massacres and slavery that Óscar Martínez so adroitly illustrates are important indictors of why US President Trumps wall is crucial to the citizens of these countries. The USA cannot fix these problems for them and by continuing to prop up their economies through the remittance system and supporting the corrupt administrations we are enabling this tragedy. What we are currently doing is not w ...more
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, justice
Journalistic vignettes of El Salvador and Guatemala, arranged to illustrate how U.S.-originated gangs fluidly control and take as given these middle Central American countries, creating entire societies of crazy violence. Lots of gruesome violence. The introduction forcefully ties these together to explain how US deportation and drug policy are why these countries cannot stabilize and will continue to pump drugs and fleeing migrants our way.
Cara Ladd
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Real stories from The Beast

This book is a must read for anyone who doesnt comprehend the dangers of attempting to migrate to the U.S. from Central America. Martinez tells the stories of why people leave their homes for the hope of a better life, and how those who can't leave remain trapped in the cycle. There is no happy ending here; just an in depth look into their stories we don't hear about and the insane trafficking that exists in our world.
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Horrifying portrait of a truly unjust society and a reality more brutal than any piece of fiction could portray.

Very well researched and written, I wish that more Americans would read this so as to understand the impact their country’s drug consumption has on this bloody region as well as the desperate reality of migrants trying to seek out a better life in the ‘land of opportunity’.

May 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
I desperately want to listen to what this book is trying to talk about, so it is the definition of frustrating that I couldn't make it through the prose. It trips me up. I can't keep track of who's who. It feels like a story told out of the corner of a mouth. Maybe that fits. But I am hungry for something clearer. Maybe you have to slow the story down? Focus on one scene? I don't know. I want to know.
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reporter Oscar Martinez shares fourteen horrifying, but true investigative pieces describing what many people face in Central America. This book reveals why people flee (not migrate) to countries in North American. Martinez tackles issues such as gang violence, human trafficking, corruption, drugs, and deplorable living conditions.
Noreen Zayna Barlas
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a must read for those seeking to understand the realities of living in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It sheds light on the gripping and realities around the horrific violence and instability in those countries. A very important book in the timely discourse around human security and migration.
Joseph Waugh
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A lucid and comprehensive overview of the Latin American Gang crises. Describes in detail the extent of political corruption and the culpibility of flawed American foreign policy decisions in the current problem.
May 20, 2020 rated it liked it
I found the book excellently researched but delivered in a manner that I could not stay interested. It is unfortunate because so much of this book is important to know and understand for anyone trying to learn how some of the history of the drug trade through central America.
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-science
Probably 3 1/2 stars. It's painful to read through and a worthwhile rejoinder to the decision to deport those who've been convicted of crimes.
Robin Case
Aug 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
Pointless compilation of articles. The language use is awkward. Maybe the translation is off.
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Compelling stories that need to be told and heard, but the writing makes me question the quality of the translation. Still plan to read the author’s previous book, though.
Mark Field
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latin-embraces, 2018
These harrowing tales of the war on drugs, and human trafficking are tough to read and heartbreaking.
Raelee Carpenter
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Americans need to read this book.
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Óscar Martínez writes for, the first online newspaper in Latin America. The original edition of his book Los migrantes que no importan was published in 2010 by Icaria and El Faro, with a second edition by Mexico’s sur+ Ediciones in 2012. Martínez is currently writing chronicles and articles for El Faro’s project, Sala Negra, investigating gang violence in Latin America. In 2008, Martíne ...more

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