El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency

El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency

4.1 18
by Ioan Grillo

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A gripping, sobering account of how Mexican drug gangs have transformed into a criminal insurgency that threatens the nation's democracy and reaches across to the United States.

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A gripping, sobering account of how Mexican drug gangs have transformed into a criminal insurgency that threatens the nation's democracy and reaches across to the United States.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Grillo, a seasoned reporter on the Mexican narcotics industry, offers a propulsive account of the blood-soaked machinery of "El Narco," the shadowy complex of drug cartels, street gangs, and paramilitary death squads that have littered Mexican streets with bodies and AK-47 shells. He tracks the violence that has surged in the vacuum left by the demise of the one-party government's byzantine but delicately balanced system of corruption, painting a grim portrait of the corrupt police, soldiers, and officials who, figuring they can't beat the crime, make a tidy fortune by joining it. Rife with tales of torture, decapitation, and mass kidnappings, the book levels an unflinching eye on the smugglers lauded as folk heroes in popular narcocorridas, or drug ballads, as the author talks to street thugs and assassins in their prison cells and luxury condos. Examining the trade's gunslinging culture, the motivations behind the continual ramping-up of violence, and some potential solutions to the problem, Grillo argues that America's hard-line rhetoric has failed—and that if a game-changing alternative is not implemented, the Mexican state could also fail. Given the savage chaos Grillo shows us in the country's streets and barrios, his arguments are as perceptive as his high-octane reportage. (Nov.)
NewYorker.com Steve Coll

Grillo's book is terrific--full of vivid front-line reporting; diverse interviews; a sense of history; a touch of social science; clarifying statistics; and realistic reviews of what might be done to improve things, none of it easy. It is essential reading.

The strength of El Narco lies in its shoe-leather reporting; Grillo interviews everyone from a former cartel assassin to DEA agents to grieving families, snitches, pot and poppy farmers, illegal immigrants and gangbangers. He's the sort of journalist who'll pop into a plastic surgery clinic or taqueria if it turns up on a list of cartel-linked businesses, just to see what he can see. Writers this knowledgeable about the subject and with no particular ax to grind are rare.
San Antonio Express

Ioan Grillo delivers the first authoritative and comprehensive examination of the unprecedented mafia violence that has taken so many lives, shaken the Mexican state and spooked the Americans…this is the book to read to understand the homicidal madness just across the river…The considerable strengths of El Narco are the depth of Grillo's reporting, the clarity of his writing and the fact that he is a thinking reporter who, while wandering through the bloody wilderness, is looking for a way out.
Rooftop Reviews

A very carefully researched book written in an engaging style.
William Booth

It is hard enough to report the facts of Mexico's crazy death spiral of drug violence. Ioan Grillo goes much, much deeper. He explains why El Narco threatens the soul of this beautiful country. He tells us how we got here.
Tim Padgett

Not since Elaine Shannon's Desperados has a book shown us the lawless horrors of the drug war with the kind of gripping human detail that confronts us in El Narco. Ioan Grillo explores that world as deeply as few journalists have dared, but he also examines it artfully and broadly: he puts the tragedy in a rich historical context that indicts not only Mexican and Latin American politicos but U.S. policymakers as well.
Malcolm Beith

Ioan Grillo, the most intrepid and knowledgeable foreign journalist covering the drug war in Mexico today, provides us with more than just a glimpse into this sordid underworld and its history--he gives us access to the soul and mind of El Narco, as well as deftly explaining and providing new insight into this hemispheric war on drugs.
Mother Jones

Graphic and fast-paced history
Boston Globe

Grillo takes advantage of his sources to provide insight on the drug war from nearly every angle, from the American government's longstanding attempts to stifle trafficking there to the national history that underpins much of the current narco culture… The book is a useful corrective to the common American idea that Mexico is just one big homogenous bloodbath south of Texas. … filled with the sort of unforgettable details to which only a reporter who has been on this beat for years would be privy.

El Narco achieves something unattempted in the English-language reporting on the Mexican drug war: it lays out in clear terms the contours of a world that has existed for years and only grown more barbaric as it's graduated to "war" status. Since that world is right next door, it's high time that English-language readers are able to learn just what makes it tick.
Canberra Times (Australia)

Essential reading … not a book for the faint-hearted. Grillo's spellbinding account of the violence fuelled by drug cartels which threatens to engulf Mexico brings you uncomfortably close to the bloody crimes in which its citizens are the victims.

El Narco is a book that has long needed writing. It is tough, straightforward … reportage
Zócalo Public Square Konstantin Kakaes

Booklist (starred review)

Effectively [analyzes how] Mexico came to control drug trafficking, how it spreads, and what can be done about it…This excellent work packs the punch of Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah, an exploration of the Italian Mafia, which also displays the fruits of direct reporting bolstered by intensive interviewing.
Dan Rather

El Narco is riveting, authoritative reporting from the front lines of the Mexican drug wars. What's happening there has explosive potential consequences for every American, and Ioan Grillo's book shows you why.
Howard Campbell

Mexico's drug trafficking mafias have become too large and dangerous for Americans to ignore. In limpid prose and penetrating analysis Ioan Grillo puts a human face on the violent tragedy caused by U.S. drug demand and Mexican cartel criminality. The author argues that a narco-insurgency threatens the very future of the Mexican state and society. I strongly recommend this timely and troubling book.
Dudley Althaus

The monster of violence rampaging in Mexico was a long time coming. Ioan Grillo traces the beast's footprints with meticulous research--including courageous reporting on some of the country's meanest streets--and engaging writing. Remarkable.
Sylvia Longmire

Ioan Grillo really gets Mexico's Drug War. His gripping and informative El Narco masterfully intersperses personal accounts from the front lines with fascinating and crucial historical details to help the reader understand why this violence is happening, and how it is impacting people on both sides of the border. El Narco is a must-read for anyone who wants the bottom line on the situation in Mexico.
Library Journal
British journalist Grillo has spent a decade covering the chilling world of Mexico's rival drug cartels, which have steadily gained strength until reaching their current paramilitary status and have led to a staggering 30,000 murders in the past five years. Grillo aims to answer the questions, What is El Narco? Who are these drug smugglers? The book is divided into three parts: a section on the history of Mexico's drug war, covering the past 100 years; an explanation of El Narco's anatomy and the widespread corruption that keeps its death machine running; and a discussion of Mexico's future, revealing how inextricably involved with this war the United States has become. Grillo suggests a future course of action that could help turn the tide. VERDICT A graphic excursion into El Narco and the economic and political realities of Mexico, where a poor country boy's only chance of financial success may be to join a cartel. Fast paced, thorough, and shocking, this will engage readers interested in true crime, mob stories, current events, and the reality behind TV shows that dramatize the fast, short lives of those who run against the law.—Krista Bush, Shelton Pub. Schs., CT
Kirkus Reviews

Accomplished, chilling account of the murderous growth of Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico City–based journalist Grillo has reported from the region since 2001; his experience is evident in his easy, wry familiarity with the political and social currents of Latin America. He argues that "the Mexican Drug War is inextricably linked to the democratic transition" of 2000, in that the country's recently elected governments were unprepared to contend with ruthless criminal gangs that had complex regional feuds and allegiances. Grillo examines how the violence of the last several years has exploded in a comprehensible and even predictable way: "Residents of northern Mexico have not turned into psychotic killers overnight after drinking bad water. This violence exploded and escalated over a clear time frame." Beginning with the Zetas' recruitment of soldiers in the late 1990s, the author argues that gangsters concluded they could outgun the forces of order. The war that followed, over territory and smuggling routes, pitted Sinaloan gangsters, who'd traditionally managed cannabis and opiate production, against the upstart northeast gangs, and cycles of horrifying bloodshed have followed ever since, with an estimated 35,000 dead. Unfortunately for everyone, the nascent democratic government was persuaded to adopt the American "drug war" model, resulting in a startling deterioration of the social fabric—retaliatory actions by gangsters have resulted in numerous massacres, including attacks on civilians and police officers. Yet seizure rates prove that the cartels "can still operate at full capacity while they fight bloody battles," suggesting a shocking futility at the heart of the violence. Grillo even documents how Mexican culture has been transformed, discussing dark "narco religions" and the violent yet jauntynarcocorridomusic.

A valuable contribution to the literature of the Drug War.

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Bloomsbury USA
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