Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb

Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb

by Mike Davis

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A gripping history of the car bomb tracing the global development of this weapon of terror and resistance.


A gripping history of the car bomb tracing the global development of this weapon of terror and resistance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

From the world's first car bomb in 1920 (actually a horse-drawn wagon, exploded by anarchist Mario Buda in downtown Manhattan), to those incessantly exploding in Iraq, Davis shows how these "quotidian workhorses of urban terrorism" are responsible for "producing the most significant mutations in city form and urban lifestyle." Whether the product of fringe militancy or "clandestine state terrorism," Davis shows, the car bomb has a limitless capacity to create and sustain fear (largely because of low cost and technological accessibility). Given the weapon's ubiquity in modern times, a "brief history" scarcely allows room for the numerous theaters of conflict within which the car bomb has evolved, including Northern Ireland, Beirut, Israel, the U.S. and Colombia, let alone much political background on, say, the Tamil Tigers' bombing campaign in Sri Lanka. At its best, this is a gripping supplementary history, full of surprising, often contrarian facts and voices behind some of the most spectacular acts of violence on record. Despite clearly populist sympathies, Davis steers away from romanticism, keeping tight focus on the indiscriminate violence inflicted upon innocents. Packed with horrific and heartrending details, the book goes beyond the statistics to portray the human and moral costs of this gruesome political lever. Photos. (Apr.)

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Foreign Affairs
Mario Buda was an anarchist who blew up a wagon full of explosivesat the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, in New York City, in 1920. Forty people were killed and 200 injured. There was immediate panic and a declaration of national emergency -- a big impact for relatively little effort, even if capitalism survived. Davis is impressed by this disproportion of effect to effort. Car bombs are stealth weapons that are a cheap and operationally straightforward way of getting explosives to a target, and they make enough noise that they cannot be ignored. For these reasons, they are the ultimate in asymmetry. But if they empower the weak, they also tend to be indiscriminate -- so they particularly empower those who are not concerned about carnage. Davis has cataloged many car-bombing episodes, showing how they have been used by groups ranging from Hezbollah and the Vietcong to the Mafia, the Stern Gang, and even the CIA. With so many grim stories to tell in a brief book, the context of individual episodes is often sketchy, the underlying political analysis shallow, and the prognosis alarmist.
Library Journal

On September 16, 1920, an Italian anarchist named Mario Buda parked a horse-drawn wagon across the street from the J.P. Morgan & Co. building in New York. At noon, the explosives in the wagon ignited, killing 40 people and injuring more than 200. This event marked the first modern use of an inconspicuous vehicle to transport explosives to a target anonymously; as Davis (The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu) puts it, this was the prototype of the car bomb. Davis traces the use of the car bomb from the 1920s to the late 1940s, when Zionist guerrillas used the device against both the British and the Palestinians during the fighting leading up to the founding of Israel, and then continues through various international conflicts from Vietnam to Ireland to Iraq. He also presents the evolution of the explosives used in these bombs, from TNT to the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mixtures used by the Irish Republican Army and convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Davis's well-written and well-documented account joins a list of recent books on modern weapon systems, e.g., Larry Kahaner's AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War. Recommended for all libraries.
—Stephen L. Hupp

From the Publisher
“Typical of Mike Davis, this extraordinary book is a brilliant antidote to official history, allowing us to understand how the weak have fought back, ingloriously, against the onslaught of the strong.”—John Pilger

Product Details

Verso Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Mike Davis is the author of several books including Planet of Slums, City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, Late Victorian Holocausts, and Magical Urbanism. He was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

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