An excellent introduction to the global cocaine trade — production, distribution, logistics, and financing are all covered. The history and evolution of the cartels & mafias in Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Russia was fascinating, even the bits I already knew.
I was hoping for more details on the Italian/European organisations, beyond the ‘Ndragheta. The occasional diversions into reflections, poetry and minor characters added to the bulk. (I completely understand Roberto’s need for that reflection—his books have cost him a free life.)

Location 425

Rules are rules. And rules are not laws. Laws are for cowards. Rules are for men.


Location 435

Men of honor know that everything dies, everything passes away, nothing lasts forever. Journalists start out wanting to change the world and end up wanting to be editor in chief. It’s easier to condition them than to corrupt them.


Location 525

An animal senses cowardice. And respects fear. Fear is the more vital instinct, and deserves more respect. Cowardice is a choice, fear is a state of mind.


Location 544

Nothing is less militaristic than the screams of someone wounded in battle. Only morphine can silence those cries and let the others go on thinking they’ll get off scot-free, come out unscathed, be victorious.


Location 602

You have to make them believe that if you thrive, they’ll thrive too. That the people who work for you will thrive too. They have to want your business to grow. If instead you show them that you have it all, they’ll want to take something from you.


Location 1268

He had always respected what the godfather Félix Gallardo had taught him was a narco-trafficker’s most important principle: avoid all ostentation and respect the criminal rules. As far as possible, avoid noise.


Location 2342

The Calabrese mafiosi were as tied to their land as the men of Medellín, yet they shared with the new men of Cali the most salient feature of their success: rule and prosper, without making too much noise. Don’t challenge official power, but rather use it, drain it, manipulate it.


Location 3339

whenever possible, “men of honor” prefer to solve conflicts with money, which is much quieter and more useful than lead.


Location 3463

He became a director and secret organizer. He evaluated costs and routes, came up with transportation systems, ironed out problems, calmed people down.


Location 3570

Illegal business is a business just like any other: What matters are reliability and foresight.


Location 3595

Roberto sticks close to Macrì and learns. He’s ambitious and obedient—not like a servant, but because he’s convinced he can learn by obeying. He keeps his mouth shut and his head down, because when he grows up he wants to command.


Location 3692

When I follow their trails I feel as though I’m leafing through a textbook on how to be a successful broker: First of all, vast available funds—the prerequisite for being able to dictate the terms of a deal. Formidable organizational skills. A broad vision combined with precision in defining every detail. They excel at mediation and have learned how to solve problems. They guarantee provisions to anyone who gets in their good graces and can pay. They know it’s better to keep their distance from politics, and from violence. All they want to do is move the white stuff, and to do that, all they need is money and good connections. Criminal groups, even rivals, allow them this freedom, because thanks to Mario and Bebè, they make money. Last, they have intuition, a quality you can’t buy and can’t learn;


Location 3698

Intuition is above all empathy, knowing how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, sniffing out his habits, his weak points, his resistance.


Location 3700

They know how to get to him, how to convince him. They know that if he hesitates, that’s the moment to insist; if he seems too sure of himself, that’s the time to make him understand who holds the purse strings.


Location 4057

Silence and isolation are the most effective forms of “mobbing” (workplace bullying).


Location 4264

Cocaine money first buys politicians and officials, and then, through them, the shelter of the banks.


Location 4280

At first glance he’s just another elderly, obese gentleman. We tend to think that people who are that slow in their bodies must be so in their minds as well. Harmless. Innocuous.


Location 4358

In my years of navigating the world’s criminal sewers I’ve noted that mafias always flourish under such circumstances: a power void, weakness, something rotten in the state in comparison to an organization that offers and represents order.


Location 4659

In Latin America and the Caribbean especially, the Russians found the same conditions of governmental weakness that had favored the Mafija’s growth: corruption, widespread illegality, porous banking systems, accommodating judges. Added to this was the ease with which Russian bosses could obtain citizenship, thanks to obliging governments.


Location 4720

What does natural gas have to do with cocaine? At first glance, nothing. Except for one essential factor: dependency. Cocaine creates addiction, while there’s no need to create an addiction for the gas to heat our homes. The business that those who’ve made real money bet on—money you can weigh, leaf through, smell—always originates from some irresistible need.


Location 4732

Nostalgia plays these sorts of tricks; it makes you yearn for things you’d really never want to experience again.


Location 5143

Mamadu learns the art of getting by—the profession that, since the beginning of time, employs the most people—and


Location 5259

the most effective and reliable criminal organization on the African continent: the Nigerian underworld.


Location 5288

Tourists have no nationality; being a tourist is an attitude, and at that point the color of your skin, your bloodshot eyes, and your crumpled clothes don’t matter.


Location 5514

When detection dogs dig excitedly, bark, scratch, or paw at an object, it’s their way of saying that the drug is right here. It’s the signal that they’ve won the game and are ready to start playing all over again.


Location 5664

Writing about cocaine is not so different from using it. You always want more—more news, more information—and the stuff you do find is so potent you can’t live without it. It’s addicting.


Location 5797

“If you lose your body, you lose your soul. If you lose your soul, you lose your power. If you lose your power, you lose everything,”


Location 5831

For people who’ve seen you messed up, even if it was only once, you’re always a drunkard and an addict.


Location 5897

I should have kept a distance I wasn’t able to keep. That’s what Anglo-Saxon journalists often say to me: Don’t get involved; keep a clear gaze between your subject and yourself. But I’ve never been able to. For me it’s the opposite. Exactly the opposite. To have a primary, penetrating, contaminated gaze. To chronicle not the facts but one’s own soul.


Location 5944

As terrible as it may seem, total legalization may be the only answer. A horrendous response, horrible perhaps, agonizing. But the only one that can stop everything. That can halt the inflated earnings. That can put an end to the


Location 5957

But I’m convinced that legalization really could be the answer. Because it hits where cocaine finds its fertile terrain, at the law of supply and demand.