Welcome to My Latin Life’s Essential Narco Reading List!
If you’re interested in criminal doings south of the border - particularly as they pertain to the drug trade, you have come to the right place.
The following books cover everything from the business end of the drug trade, to major players, to its victims and all that lies in between. I’ve included a brief description for each book so you can figure out which one might interest you the most!
Now, I know I’ve probably forgotten some quintessential titles here, so if you know of any other worthwhile “narco” books, please post them in the comments below!
Let’s get it moving.
My Latin Life’s Narco Reading List
Narconomics: How To Run A Drug Cartel, by Tom Wainwright
Narconomics is a thorough investigation into how drug cartels do business. The author covers every aspect of the drug trade, how it works and why it works. He also provides tips for authorities to get a better handle on combatting the problem. This is one of the best books I have ever read on the subject of drug cartels. If you want to get an idea of how exactly they operate, read this.
The Power of the Dog, by Don Winslow
A dramatization of the War on Drugs. Technically fiction, but inspired by true events. The author has done a shipload of research to bring you an enthralling tale of the drug war from both the US and Mexican side of the border.
The Cartel, by Don Winslow
The follow-up to The Power Of The Dog. I preferred The Cartel, as it focuses more on Mexico. The book is a fictionalized telling of recent events in Mexico’s drug war. If you know anything about the main players in the Mexican drug trade, you’ll see many of them dramatized here.
El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, by Ioan Grillo
Ioan Grillo is the Latin America reporter I admire most. Whereas most Mexico City-based journalist spend their time complaining about Donald Trump, Grillo gets out there, puts himself in danger and does some goddamn reporting! El Narco is required reading for anyone interested in Mexico’s drug war. In my opinion, it’s the best book on the subject.
Ioan Grillo again. This time, he tackles the criminal underworld in Latin America and shows the interconnectedness of it all. Brilliant reporting. If you want to deep dive into drugs, gangs and violence in Latin America, there is no better book to start with.
Do you remember Jorge Salcedo from the third season of Narcos? Well, this book tells the whole, true story and it’s wilder than you could ever imagine.
Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family, by Charles Bowden
Charles Bowden (now deceased) was my favourite borderland reporter. Like Ioan Grillo, he really put himself out there to bring you the harsh realities of the drug war in Mexico. This book tells the story of how the war on drugs nearly destroyed one El Paso family. A tragic tale of grief, murder and family as well as a damning narrative on the drug war and the US government’s complacency.
El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, by Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy
An interview with a Mexican assassin for the Juarez drug cartel. A bone-chilling read. Check out the documentary of the same name if you get a chance.
Drug Lord: The Life and Death of a Mexican Kingpin, by Terrence E. Poppa
The true story of Pablo Acosta, a Mexican kingpin who started from the bottom and rose to the top. You could consider him one of the grandfathers of modern drug smuggling in Mexico. A fascinating read.
Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden
The rise and fall of Pablo Escobar told through good old fashioned investigative journalism. Personally, I’m not as interested in Pablo Escobar as you might expect, but this was still a thumping good read.
ZeroZeroZero, by Roberto Saviano
A relatively unknown book when it comes to drug war enthusiasts. But this one is not to be missed. From the author of Gomorrah, this book tells the story of cocaine. From Colombia, to Guatemala, to Mexico, to Russia, and beyond. Its history, its production, use, distribution and the destruction it leaves in its path.
The Accountant's Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellin Cartel, by Roberto Escobar Gaviria; David Fisher
Another Pablo Escobar book. This one, from the prospective of his brother. It shows a different, more sensitive of Pablo Escobar. It can be frustrating to read considering all the terrible things this man did, but a unique take and captivating read nonetheless.
A shocking story of two young Mexican-American boys recruited to work as hitmen for the Zetas. I could not put this book down.
The Infiltrator, by Robert Mazur
The story of how an undercover agent brought down the dirty bankers of the Medellin Cartel and thwarted one of the largest money laundering schemes in history. Brian Cranston stars in a movie by the same name. A thrilling read. I can’t believe this guy wasn’t killed.
Two brothers living on opposite sides of the border. One, an honest man. The other, a ruthless criminal. This book tells the incredible story of how their dramatically different worlds merge through horse racing. A compelling read with colorful characters.
Tells the same story as Bones but is distinct enough to make both worth reading. This one focuses a bit less on horse-racing, and a bit more on the cartel and FBI.
Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers, Anabel Hernandez
A report on the Mexican Drug trade and the extent to which it has poisoned and corrupted Mexican institutions. Extremely brave reporting by Anabel Hernandez.
The Lizard’s Tale, by Kurt Kamm
A relatively unknown work of fiction. A creative take on the drug world - full of interesting characters who are touched by the trade. And, with a rare lizard at the center of it all. Read this if you want something more lighthearted after working your way through the other titles on the list.
Gary Webb was the journalist who exposed the CIA’s complacency and connection to the crack-cocaine epidemic in the United States through its funding of the Contra army in Nicaragua. Many believe Webb was killed as a result of his reporting. This book tells the story (in much greater depth than the film Kill The Messenger).
A report on how illicit commerce is changing the world at a dizzying pace. All about illegal trading and the depths it reaches and the influence it has. Not all about narcos and the drug trade, but worth a spot on the list. Truly eye-opening.
A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, by Oscar Martínez
Basically, explains why Central America is crime-ridden and impoverished. Gets into how gang culture has come to influence Central American society. If you’re wondering why Central Americans are flooding into the US, this book will give you a good perspective.
That’s all, folks!
A handful of books to supplement your viewing of the latest season of Narcos.
I hope you enjoyed the list, and I hope you check out at least one of these titles. Any one of them will help you gain perspective on the horrible violence, crime and corruption going down in Latin America.
Again, if you have any suggestions that aren’t on this list, please post them in the comments below!
And, if you know anyone interested in this sort of thing, share this article with them.
It’s hard to find a good narco reading list these days…
Thanks for listening.
Until next time,