While there's no shortage of books on international terrorism, drug cartels and genocide, the international weapons trade has received less attention. Journalists Farah and Braun center their absorbing exposé of this source of global misery on its most successful practitioner, the Russian dealer Victor Bout. Throughout the Cold War, they show, the Kremlin supplied arms to oppressive regimes and insurgent groups, keeping close tabs on customers; after the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the floodgates opened in the 1990s. With weapons factories starved for customers, Soviet-era air transports lying idle and rusting, and dictators, warlords and insurgents throughout the world clamoring for arms, entrepreneurs and organized criminals saw fortunes to be made. The authors paint a depressing picture of an avalanche of war-making material pouring into poor, violence-wracked nations despite well-publicized U.N. embargoes. America denounces this trade, but turns a blind eye if recipients proclaim they are fighting terrorism, they say. Ruthless people who shun publicity make poor biographical subjects, and Bout is no exception. The authors' energetic research reveals that rivals dislike him, colleagues admire him, enemies condemn him, and Bout describes himself as a much-maligned but honest businessman. Although an unsatisfactory portrait, the book surrounds it with an engrossing, detailed description of this wildly destructive traffic. (Aug.)
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