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Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,308 ratings  ·  208 reviews
Ciudad Juárez lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state. Infamously known as the place where women disappear, its murder rate exceeds that of Baghdad. Last year 1,607 people were killed—a number that is on pace to increase in 2009.

In Murder City, Charles Bowden—one of the few journalists who has spent
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Nation Books (first published February 19th 2010)
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Amar Pai
Feb 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, like Bowden's earlier work Down By The River, makes me so angry I feel like I'm suffocating. People who believe in the "War on Drugs" are so completely disconnected from reality that no rational arguments are even worth mustering. At this point it's like arguing against belief in God. He exists because he exists. Drugs are bad because drugs are bad. The War on Drugs is working because it is working.

50,000 dead in Mexico since Calderon commenced the current "crackdown on cartels." The
Aug 01, 2010 rated it liked it
If you could reduce this book to one sentence, it would be this: The murder rate in Ciudad Juarez is now higher than any other city in North America--EVER--and with no significant change in demography or law enforcement procedure, it will continue to climb annually!

Imagine a continuum. On the far left is genocide. On the far right is municipal murder rate. The continuum only captures, say, the last 20 years. (This continuum does not include conventional warfare, where uniformed combatants meet o
Please be advised that there will be no apocalypse. The very idea of a Götterdämmerung assumes meaning and progress. You cannot fall off a mountain unless you are climbing. No one here is slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. We shall not meet next year in Jerusalem. For years, I thought I was watching the city go from bad to worse, a kind of terrible backsliding from its imagined destiny as an America with different food. I was blind to what was slapping me in the face: the future.

Razed, spoi
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mexico, 2012, crime
Putting the subject matter aside for a second (if only I could put it aside forever), this book really changed my notion of what a non-fiction book can be. My book diet skews heavily towards the fiction side of things (not my short reads, mind you—if I’m reading something shorter than 10,000 words, chances are it’s non-fiction), and the stereotype notion of a standard non-fiction book that I carry around in my head is something that is basically an extended essay—the author (usually a journalist ...more
Angie Taylor
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is disturbing. Disturbing in number of deaths. Disturbing in the questions of what is fact and false. Disturbing in the implications that the solutions to the problems in Juarez aren't working. Disturbing in it's entirety.

At times the book reads like a poetic stream of consciousness lamenting the loss of innocence, loss of a people, loss of feeling for what is right and wrong, and a loss of humanity. Throughout Bowden's lament, stories of individuals surface. The people's stories weave
Rob Maynard
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The original New Journalism was everything good in the potential for reportage and also held the seeds of its own seeming destruction. The magic that flowed into magazines and books from the minds of Mailer and Capote, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, and others defined eras and events and personalities in a way that traditional novels and traditional journalism could not. Wolfe and Thompson, in particular, were such stylists that the writing and perspective itself looked so different th ...more
Betsy Kalman
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Bowden takes the reader into Juarez and renders the depravity, the violence and the odd humanity of the sicarios--the assassins in a method that is emotionally devastating. "'We are not monsters,'" an assassin explains. "'We have education, we have feelings. I would leave torturing someone, go home, and have dinner with my family, and then return. You shut off parts of your mind. It is a kind of work, you follow orders.'" The city's residents are so completely unable to protect themselves and th ...more
Karin Cope
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For the whole review, see my blog entry here:

Note, Chuck Bowden is no longer with us; he died in August 2014.

It begins as follows:

On February 17th, on my way to Mexico, I begin reading Chuck Bowden's Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields. We'd heard him interviewed on the radio in January, his voice languid and haunted, cracking from the speaker like something from the other side of death. Which in a way, he is. He's been
Joshua Buhs

Charles Bowden knows the Southwest. He knows Ciudad Juárez. He's walked its streets, He's talked to its people. He has no patience for armchair pundits. He knows where the bodies are buried.


Bowden's book is about Juárez in the year of 2008, when--as John Wesley Harding said a decade before--pointless death's become/A brand new way of life and the murder rate skyrocketed to several hundred in the single year. Bowden tried to keep track of them all before becoming disgusted. He
Apr 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is, without a doubt, one of the most dark and disturbing books I have read in a long time. I heard the author talking on NPR last week, and I was so captivated by his story that I ordered the brand new hardcover on Amazon, something I rarely do.

I have, for years now, been fascinated with Ciudad Juarez in Mexcio. Most people have heard about the 'femicides' that have taken place there over the past ten years or so: hundreds and hundreds of young women raped and murdered, with virtually no on
Jul 13, 2010 rated it liked it
I found this book extremely frustrating. Bowden did some terrific investigative reporting and when he lets the people he met talk for themselves, the book is fascinating, terrifying and moving. But when he goes on and on about his own anger and frustration, it just sounds self-righteous and his writing deteriorates. Not that I doubt his rage is genuine, it's just that his style becomes florid and overly melodramatic. The situation is dramatic as it is. No need to hit your readers over the head w ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
From the very fist page, I was hooked. This was a side of Juarez that I had no idea was going on. All I ever hear about that place, is it's really bad over there and it's right next door to good ol' El Paso, Texas. This isn't a feel good book, whatsoever. It isn't a solution to the problem, either. It's a book just stating the facts on the nightmare that is taking place and is being swept under the rug by politicians, government, and media outlets for many reasons, but mostly due to fear and not ...more
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Harrowing and hair-raising investigative journalism in a city which lays waste to many who try to uncover its secrets.

Spoiler: although he's still alive, the author didn't escape Ciudad Juárez and probably never will. Something about his time there seems to have broken Bowden, but he was able to spin his despair into some top-notch reportage. Much of the book is taken up with the reporter's (rather more literary) version of screaming and tearing at his own face, and I agree with the many review
Jerry Peace
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Magnificent, horrendous account. Brutally poetic and should be required reading for all Americans, particularly the ones who scream so blithely and inanely and pitifully ignorantly about illegals and refugees. We have no idea the courage of the people of Juarez for simply rising each morning, going to work, to school, to the store. El Pastor is a hero, not all the guys with guns, not any of the guys with guns. Bowden paints a charnel house, yet, yet, with a strange beauty, something irresistible ...more
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Murder City" by Charles Bowden is a visceral, gritty journey into the chaos and violence that has gripped the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez since 2008. Juarez has always been a dangerous town, but since Mexican president Felipe Calderon unleashed the nation's military on his own people, it has turned into a wasteland of murder, rape, crime and terror. Bowden chronicles the city's downfall with the eye of a scientist and the pen of a poet, he introduces us to haunting characters, chilling ...more
Jun 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was awesome, disturbing in it's frankness about the chaotic nature of Juarez Mexico; once heralded as the proof positive of the potential of NAFTA, now a city in crisis. Between the Mexican Army, which hunts local police, the "cartels" which disappear people, all the players who deal in the drug trade, and the general Juarez population which survives some 2400 murders (2009) in a city of not more than 5-6million; the reader is pummeled with some harsh realities.

A press which is cowed
Esequiel Contreras Jr

Reads like a diary with plenty of stories to make you cringe. I was a young man in a Juarez cantina in the winter of 1994 and witnessed my first brutal bar fight. Never imagined it could have ever gotten worse. Never been back since then. Thank God!
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Good ... but depressing. Man is THIS book a downer. Well-written and eye-opening ... but Gawd awful depressing.
Niklas Pivic
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Geography has made the city the link between the center of Mexico and the transportation arteries of the United States. But in the 1980s, major cocaine routes shifted from Florida to Mexico, and Juárez became the beneficiary of this change. Profits increased manyfold, and by 1995, the Juárez cartel was taking in $250 million a week, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Violence grew accordingly, as did corruption of the local government to protect this money. But nothing
Darren White
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields
by Charles Bowden
352 pages. Nation Books. $27.50

Juárez is diseased. It doesn’t take a thorough read of Murder City: Cuidad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields to pick up on the fact that something is alarmingly wrong in a city where jobs pay immorally low wages, drugs and the people who deal them infiltrate the culture in all aspects, where the government and police are corrupt and massacre is commonplace.

For near
Bob Price
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Having been to Juarez, and having friends there, this book greatly interested me. Having read the book, this is a must read for anybody who wants to understand the situation in Juarez, because this is (to my knowledge) the only book that is willing to look at the killings.

Juarez is the final destination for a great deal of Mexicans who wish to become US Citizens legally. Any Mexican citizen who wishes to legally come to the US must go to Juarez. But by coming to Juarez, they are putting their li
Mar 22, 2011 rated it liked it
The author, an American journalist who has lived and traveled extensively throughout Mexico, is unfliching in his descriptions of the reality of life in Juarez: the corruption and violence carried out by the military and the police (often against each other), the shockingly regular murders associated with out-of-control drug wars, the frequent discoveries of mass graves throughout the region, the random assassinations of Mexican journalists for writing seemingly innocuous stories, and, most dist ...more
Mar 19, 2011 rated it liked it
I was expecting a straight book-length piece of journalism and instead got a warm-up for Bolano's 2666. There is analysis in here but it's mingled with the author's fantastical visions and dreamlike interpretations of the violence and death in Ciudad Juarez. Miss Sinaloa, one of the victims, becomes his sort of muse for the book. It seemed like the author, like some of the residents, can't find a rational way to explain the spiraling violence (there is none, apart from greed) and seeks a more ot ...more
Feb 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
This was the most recent pick of one of my book clubs. It sounded really interesting from the summary on the book jacket. I was looking forward to learning more about what is going on in Ciudad Juárez. However, this book was nothing like I imagined it was going to be. Instead of being an investigative journalistic look at the events, the author wrote something that I have a hard time even explaining. If it's possible I understand even less about the issues in Ciudad Juárez than I did before I re ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was the best book I have ever read on how poverty creates violence. Living in Mexico I used to use what Charles Bowden describes as "magical thinking" or thinking that I know what probably happened behind every murder. While my wife uses the "ignore it and it won't happen to me approach" Murder City was a real eye opener. Particularly the way the media covers the murders (or lack thereof). I would recommend this book to everyone. In the end I really don't know if anything can be done to sto ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I always wanted have more information regarding Mexico's war on drugs and this book was perfect for my purpose. It was quite enlightening since I was hearing so many negative and positive things about the so called war. It reveals a lot of statistical information as well as the emotional and sociological aspect of the situation especially on Ciudad Juarez since it is argued to be one the most violent cities in the world. The only criticism I would bring regarding the book is that the author jump ...more
Huw Thornton
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I can't tout this book's brilliance enough. It's not a straightforward history of modern Juarez and the rise of the cartels, and it's not a personal narrative of one's life among the killing fields, but a strange and effective intermingling of the two.

I know that many readers take issue with Bowden's style, but for me I don't see any other way for him to let the story grow in a way that would resonate so strongly with the reader. You get the feeling that you intimately know him and the principa
Art Marroquin
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Charles Bowden appears to have looked into the heart of darkness in Juarez and been driven somewhat crazy by it. Small wonder, what is happening there is unfathomable. Any attempt to impose meaning on the slaughter going on there can only be preliminary and approximate. Still, credit Bowden with having the nerve to be there and attempting to tell the story in any fashion at all. Mexican journalists, lots of them, have been killed for writing much less than Bowden. What he is saying is that our s ...more
Apr 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
I heard this guy on NPR and paid full price for the book at Barnes & Noble, which is something I almost never do. The interview was that good, but the book is a whole lotta this:

"The dead are past lying and the dead know one real fact: Someone killed them. They often do not know who killed them. Nor do they know why they were killed. But at least they know they have been killed and are now dead."

Also, the "Murder Artist" chapters read like fiction and probably are.

Listen to the interview for fre
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a tough slog. I had to take some necessary detours into Scrooge McDuck comics and other lighter fare. I couldn't read all of the appendix, which was clippings from Juarez-area newspapers for every killing in 2008. It was too much. Every page was "another body was found. Then another. Then another." It's repetitive, but in a hypnotic way, an incantation calling up some dark god. I've been to Juarez a couple of times, walked out in the open air on the street, even purchased candies and fa ...more
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Charles Bowden was an American non-fiction author, journalist and essayist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

His journalism appeared regularly in Harper’s GQ, and other national publications. He was the author of several books of nonfiction, including Down by the River.

In more than a dozen groundbreaking books and many articles, Charles Bowden blazed a trail of fire from the deserts of the Southwes

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21 likes · 11 comments
“There are two ways to lose you sanity in Juarez. One is to believe the violence results from a cartel war. The other is to claim to understand what is behind each murder.” 5 likes
“Focusing on the dead women enables Americans to ignore the dead men, and ignoring the dead men enables the United States to ignore the failure of its free-trade schemes, which in Juarez are producing poor people and dead people faster than any other product.” 2 likes
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