The best books on the USA / Mexico border, drug cartels, and misery

Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.

I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

The books I picked & why

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Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future

By Charles Bowden,

Book cover of Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future

Why this book?

I could have picked almost any of Bowden’s books on the border, for example, the excellent Murder City, but I’m choosing Laboratory of the Future as it’s the first piece of his writing I came across. Bowden, who lived on both sides of the US/Mexican border for many years, was intimate with his subject, and the brutal power of his journalistic writing puts most novelists to shame. He is not afraid to question us or confront us, or hide his anger, but it is never unwarranted. In this book, he, and the thirteen Mexican photographers whose frequently shocking images accompany the text, paints a grim picture of the nature of ultra-capitalism when allowed to run free just south of the border – it is, he says, an experiment: it is the laboratory of our future.

Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel

By Tom Wainwright,

Book cover of Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel

Why this book?

For a closer look at the way drug cartels work, Wainwright suggests we need to think of them in terms of big business, for that is what, underneath the extreme violence and horror, they are.

The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious

By John Dodson,

Book cover of The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious

Why this book?

Dodson was an officer for the ATF working along the border with Mexico. He stumbled across the scandal behind Operation Fast and Furious, and rather than keeping quiet, he took the risky step of whistleblowing on covert operations by US government agencies in collusion with the drug gangs of Mexico, and the death of Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry.

The Sorrows of Mexico

By Emiliano Ruiz Parra, Lydia Cacho, Juan Villoro, Marcela Turati, Anabel Hernández

Book cover of The Sorrows of Mexico

Why this book?

Seven esteemed Mexican writers: analyse and dissect the repeated failings of their country’s government. Uncomfortable but necessary reportage for anyone who wants to understand the situation in modern Mexico.

Death and the Idea of Mexico

By Claudio Lomnitz,

Book cover of Death and the Idea of Mexico

Why this book?

I wanted to include a book here on ‘Holy Death’ herself, Santa Muerte, but there simply isn’t a good one. There’s a terrible one published by a once respectable academic publisher, but I can’t recommend it. Instead, there are some passages on Santa Muerte in this huge and significant piece of work: Lomnitz’s encyclopedic book digs into Mexico’s deep roots to explore the long relationship the country has with Death, of which the still growing ‘cult’ of Santa Muerte is but one emanation.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the USA Mexico border, Mexico, and drug trafficking?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the USA Mexico border, Mexico, and drug trafficking.

The USA Mexico Border Explore 19 books about the USA Mexico border
Mexico Explore 99 books about Mexico
Drug Trafficking Explore 7 books about drug trafficking

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Blood Meridian, In the Rogue Blood, and All the Pretty Horses if you like this list.