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The Devil's Highway: A True Story

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  11,173 ratings  ·  1,668 reviews
The author of Across the Wire offers brilliant investigative reporting of what went wrong when, in May 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona. Only 12 men came back out.
Paperback, 239 pages
Published 2004 by Back Bay Books
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  11,173 ratings  ·  1,668 reviews

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Feb 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
of all the books i've read on the subject, this is the best. the story itself is harrowing, of course, and urrea is one hell of a writer. rather than tell a linear story of the 26 mexicans who walked across the devil's highway (only 12 lived to tell the tale), he offers a kaleidoscopic view of the whole machine: border patrol, mexican gangsters, coyotes, arizona, texas, vera cruz, the rio grande, sonora, and the eyeball-drying life-taking sweat-sucking scorching terrible terrible terrible dantea ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
”Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck they didn’t know their own names, couldn’t remember where they’d come from, had forgotten how long they’d been lost. One of them wandered back up a peak. One of them was barefoot. They were burned nearly black, their lips huge and cracking, what paltry drool still available to them spuming from their mouths in a salty foam as they walked. Their eyes were cloudy with dust, almost too dry to blink up a tear. Their hair was hard and stiffened ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction Shortlist 2005. Urrea masterfully brings to life the lives of 26 men and boys who attempted to enter the United States by walking across the treacherous southern Arizona desert, called the Devil’s Highway, in May of 2001. He follows these men from their recruitment by Mexican gangsters, to the border area where three guides took over, and finally their horrific trek under the 115 degree sun in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Fourteen of them died. At las ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this book to learn more about the Mexican American border situation. Who are the "crossers" and whom must they deal with? I learned a lot. It presents all parts in a balanced and fair manner. I recommend the book very highly.

The author reads his own book. This he has done very well too.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was working with the Border Patrol at the time of this story. It is a very effective presentation of how people are smuggled across the Arizona border from Mexico. It is also effective at showing how to die in the desert. You will feel empathy for the migrants. You will see the day to day life of the Border Patrol. They are not who they are often presented as. With this you will identify how dysfunctional policy is with regard to the Southwest Border... I'm a fan of sealed borders and liberal ...more
D. Pow
Jun 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
This a great book, one of the best I’ve read this year. It hits you in the head, makes you think hard about the events conveyed between its pages, but it packs an even harder emotional wallop. I felt such sadness and fierce heartache for the 26 men who stumbled into the Devil’s Highway and the brutal loss of the 14 who didn’t make it and the tortuous way they stumbled, for hour on endless hour, into the ultimately merciful embrace of death.

Urrea has a poet’s gift for language, alternating long,
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A gut-wrenching, fierce book centering around 26 men who tried to cross the US-Mexican border through the desert. Urrea writes about their arduous journey in shattering detail as well as providing an even-handed portrayal of several Border Patrol agents and a discussion of the bigger picture of illegal immigration.

(On my list of authentic books to read as an alternative to, or alongside American Dirt)
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This is as good as it gets if you want a short but comprehensive examination of the issues surrounding our porous border with Mexico. All viewpoints are represented, and with surprisingly little bias on the part of the author. As a Mexican American, Urrea admits to an initial bias against the Border Patrol, or "Pinche Migra." His investigation changed his mind, and he presents them in a favorable light.

Urrea uses one well-publicized 2001 tragedy to illustrate the complexities and absurdities of
Cathrine ☯️
5 🚷 🚷 🚷 🚷 🚷
I read this after it was recommended in a review for nonfiction reading about immigrants and illegal entry into the US via our southern border with Mexico. It was suggested as an alternative to the popular and controversial American Dirt. My copy of that one has yet to make it into my hands so I can’t compare the two, even so, fiction is its own category and if it draws one to books like this I’m tempted to say it’s a win-win.

I live in rural California where almost daily you drive in
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to El by: The Roundtable
We all know that in our current political climate, there are very strong feelings by people on every side when it comes to the issue of immigration and refugees. There has long been talk about a wall being built between the United States and Mexico, to prevent people from crossing the border and, y'know, "taking our jobs" or whatever. I'm not interested in having a political debate with anyone about this topic, but a wall is fucking stupid.

In any case.

In 2001, 26 men attempted to cross the borde
Carmel Hanes
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I listened to this following American Dirt, to have a comparison in the quest to "put a face on the faceless", which both authors had as a goal. This book gave me a much more complete view of the people who make these dangerous border crossings, and why.

Urrea focuses on one particular story involving a small group of men who attempt to make the crossing with the help of a "coyote", only to become lost and succumb to the heat. Many died in the attempt, making headlines in the news. We learn w
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea was a disturbing non-fiction account of an unforgiving corridor along the Mexico-United States border known as "The Devil's Highway." The author did extensive research and was granted access to documents and governmental reports from both Mexico and the United States including border patrol reports, sheriff's departmental reports, Mexican consular reports, Justice Department reports, testimonies and trial documents, correspondence and hours of taped int ...more
Joy D
“Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck they didn’t know their own names, couldn’t remember where they’d come from, had forgotten how long they’d been lost… They were burned nearly black, their lips huge and cracking, what paltry drool still available to them spuming from their mouths in a salty foam as they walked. Their eyes were cloudy with dust, almost too dry to blink up a tear. Their hair was hard and stiffened by old sweat, standing in crowns from their scalps, old sweat ...more
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Urrea writes an engrossing, disturbing, and tragic account of the Yuma 14. In May of 2001, a group of 26 people got lost in the Arizona desert while attempting to crossthe border, and only 12 survived. I decided to read the book after hearing Urrea speak here in Bloomington. In person, he was an amazing story teller, and explained the process of writing the devil's highway. I learned a lot about the politics and geography of the border, and the different stories of the individuals involved - the ...more
Mar 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, non-fiction
This was an excellent book on border crossings between Mexico and the U.S. It is horrifying as well. I can still see the mummified bodies of those who tried to cross the borders with just one ola in their hands. They thought that all they had to do was walk across, and they were there in a town or city; instead a desert met them, and they died within a very short period of time.
Apr 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Part 1 is over written and over told. I think the author was trying to provide context but it was like someone describing a map. Boring.
Part 2 is just as descriptive but it becomes entrancing. I could visualize everything those men went through in the desert. After that the over explaining begins again.
Although it's not perfect I think everyone should read this book before they form an opinion on immigration. These "illegal immigrants" didn't come here to have "anchor babies" or get on "welfare.
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Urrea brings his compassionate heart, his knowledge of the Mexican-American borderlands, and his skills as a reporter, novelist and poet to this nonfiction story of a 2001 border crossing that went tragically awry. While some circumstances have changed, the book remains relevant, important and unforgettable.
Nick Iuppa
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY is Luis Alberto Urrea’s account of a disastrous effort by twenty-six impoverished Mexican men to cross the border into the United States and find work to support the families. They had their dreams: buying a home for their parents, a new roof for their wife, schooling for their children, a car, gifts for their girlfriends. There was just no work in the impoverished city of Vera Cruz from which they came. They each paid over a thousand pesos for a knowledgeable guide to lead t ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If hell really existed, it would likely look like the Devil’s Highway in southern Arizona – an area so harsh and unforgiving that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it.

In May 2001, 26 Mexican men attempted to cross the Mexican border after gifting the Coyotes – human smugglers – with just about every peso they have. And then their journey goes terribly wrong. “They didn’t carry enough water. Can there ever be enough water? Probably not. But the Popielas carried a couple of those
May 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
While listening to this audio book, I felt just as lost as those wandering the Devil's Highway. The narrative is scattered & the author rambles. I think I would've enjoyed this one a lot more had it been told in a linear format. ...more
The border between the U.S. and Mexico is a mythical, brutal place. A no-man's land that men often cross through, or die in. In May 2014, two dozen men entered "the Devil's Highway", a stretch of desert between Sonora in Mexico and Yuma, Arizona in America. Fourteen of these men did not come out alive.

This is not an uncommon fate for "undocumented entrants"; hundreds of migrants die every year trying to gain entry to America. (1,954 people died crossing the border between 1998 and 2004*. Heat st
Alison Hardtmann
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-but-unowned
This book was published seven years ago and should be required reading today. It describes how undocumented workers get to the farms, motels, fast food restaurants and factories of the United States and why they undertake that perilous journey through the story of a typical group of men who attempted to cross the Arizona desert on foot. It's brilliantly and humanely written, showing everyone from the Border Patrol to the coyotes who guide the group so disastrously wrong in a critical, but compas ...more
Yesenia Cash
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderfully written and narrated, It’s heart wrenching to hear/read stories about my people’s journeys across the border!
Apr 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
This is a really sad story, and definitely looks at the many facets of border crossings and border politics in a fairly balanced way. But I had a very hard time with the way Urrea chose to tell it.

If this were a documentary, it would be one of the overly-dramatic ones filled with a little too much speculation and a few too many cheesy reenactments that you find on the Discovery and History channels. He may have gotten most of his facts right, but because of the way those facts are presented, I
Dec 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
How have I let 15 years go by and not read this book? Thank you Lisa for insisting that I get to it ASAP.

This is a harrowing story of the Yuma 14 who died crossing the border from Mexico to the US. The story circles around from multiple angles, but I most appreciated the back stories of the men (and boys) who left their homes and loved ones for what they hoped was a short time. With the hope and plan to return home and put a roof on the house or buy school supplies for their child.

I listened t
A detailed, sad story of one border crossing from Mexico to the USA which went very, very wrong. Urrea skilfully presents the story through the eyes of the walkers, the Coyotes, the financiers, the gangsters, Mexican government, US government, border patrols officers. One of his quotes was from the local Mexican consul who said, "What kills the people is the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border". As an outsider, it seems nothing has changed. ...more
Nov 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-worst
I was assigned this book in nursing school of all places, I guess to enlighten the new "immigrants" in our class to the true struggle and torture of the border crossers in this area of the country. While this topic is engaging and radically important to consider, the absolute lack of writing ability of Urrea made me stumble over every page, dragging myself through. I constantly stopped to point out literary, grammatical, etc. errors to my friend who also has a literature degree, and we were both ...more
Hayley Stenger
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was small, but it hits hard. Luis Alberto Urrea does an amazing job of explaining background, information and the human aspect of illegal immigration across our Southern border.

This book hit me even harder since I live in Arizona and have driven past several of the locations and know them well. I also know the heat of the desert.

I appreciate the humanization of those in the story. I know too often people die crossing the desert, but those are more often than not, a number, a tragic co
Randell Green
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly written account of the perilous journey many immigrants take in Southwestern Arizona. As a resident of this area, I couldn’t put the book down as it brought to light many of the problems that plague both sides of the border.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death, non-fiction, latinx
Beautifully written and organized from start to finish. I learned so much about the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and the harrowing journey people take to find the mythical American Dream. This is one of the most visceral nonfiction books I’ve read, detailing the brutality of the desert, life in Mexico and how immigrants are treated by our governments. Such a compelling and important read. I will be picking up more by Urrea, who did a spectacular job narrating his audiobook.
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Luis Alberto Urrea is the award-winning author of 13 books, including The Hummingbird's Daughter, The Devil's Highway and Into the Beautiful North (May 2009). Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Luis has used the theme of borders, immigration and search for love and belonging throughout his work. A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 (nonfiction), he's won the Kiriyama Prize (2006 ...more

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45 likes · 10 comments
“If it was the Border Patrol’s job to apprehend lawbreakers, it was equally their duty to save the lost and the dying.” 4 likes
“From the beginning, the highway has always lacked grace-those who worship desert gods know them to favor retribution over the tender dove of forgiveness. In Desolation, doves are at the bottom of the food chain. Tohono O'Odham poet Ofelia Zepeda has pointed out that rosaries and Hail Marys don't work out here. "You need a new kind of prayers," she says "to negotiate with this land.” 4 likes
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