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Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible [Paperback]

Douglas Farah
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 1 2008
Praise for Merchant of Death

""A riveting investigation of the world's most notorious arms dealer--a page-turner that digs deep into the amazing, murky story of Viktor Bout. Farah and Braun have exposed the inner workings of one of the world's most secretive businesses--the international arms trade.""
—Peter L. Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know

""Viktor Bout is like Osama bin Laden: a major target of U.S. intelligence officials who time and again gets away. Farah and Braun have skillfully documented how this notorious arms dealer has stoked violence around the world and thwarted international sanctions. Even more appalling, they show how Bout ended up getting millions of dollars in U.S. government money to assist the war in Iraq. A truly impressive piece of investigative reporting.""
—Michael Isikoff, coauthor of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War

""Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun are two of the toughest investigative reporters in the country. This is an important book about a hidden world of gunrunning and profiteering in some of the world's poorest countries.""
—Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

""In Merchant of Death, two of America's finest reporters have performed a major public service, turning over the right rocks that reveal the brutal international arms business at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Viktor Bout, they have given us a new Lord of War, a man who knows no side but his own, and who has a knack for turning up in every war zone just in time to turn a profit. As Farah and Braun uncover and document his troubling role in the Bush Administration's Global War on Terror, his ties to Washington almost seem inevitable.""
—James Risen, author of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration

""An extraordinary and timely piece of investigative reporting, Merchant of Death is also a vividly compelling read. The true story of Viktor Bout, a sociopathic Russian gunrunner who has supplied weapons for use in some of the most gruesome conflicts of modern times--and who can count amongst his clients both the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the U.S. military in Iraq--is a stomach-churning indictment of the policy failures and moral contradictions of the world's most powerful governments, including that of the United States.""
—Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad

Two respected journalists tell the incredible story of Viktor Bout, the Russian weapons supplier whose global network has changed the way modern warfare is fought. Bout’s vast enterprise of guns, planes, and money has fueled internecine slaughter in Africa and aided both militant Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan and the American military in Iraq. This book combines spy thrills with crucial insights on the shortcomings of a U.S. foreign policy that fails to confront the lucrative and lethal arms trade that erodes global security.


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From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

* 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.) (Publishers Weekly, June 11, 2007)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the slog Feb. 24 2009
Format:Paperback
A well-researched portrait of an arms-trading villain and the people who made it their business to bring him down. A tad dry in places, but fascinating nonetheless.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dirty Hands July 11 2007
By Kerry Walters - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a frightening book. Victor Bout, the Russian merchant of death, is a guy who pushes the "free marketplace" ethos as far as it can go. Each year he black-markets millions of dollars' worth of weapons, from pistols to missiles, to any government or group with the scratch to pay for them. Ideology means nothing to him. He's perfectly happy to sell weapons to both sides in a civil war, for example. He's simply, as he describes himself, a "businessman" looking for the best deal. (Diabolically, he also calls himself a "humanitarian" because of his occasional highly publicized "charities"--which always, by the way, earn him huge profits.)

We all know that arms merchants, legal or otherwise, are big global players (the Nicholas Cage flick, "Lord of War," publicized the industry). But what may be less known is that many of them, with Bout at the top of the list, operate with the at least implicit complicity of governments around the world. So long as Bout markets his stuff as "weapons in the war against terrorism," so long as he sells to thugs whom governments approve, he seems to have lots of friends in high places who shield him from international police warrants and criminal prosecution.

So one of the more chilling subtexts of Farah and Braun's book is that creeps like Bout aren't really outlaws so much as allies of governments. He's like one of those slightly embarrassing cousins that you don't especially want at family reunions, but which everyone in the family secretly turns to when they need something. The Bouts of the world come and go. But their perennial presence in our midst is guaranteed by oceans of surplus weapons built by past and present superpowers, and the willingness of the remaining superpowers to turn a blind eye so long as those weapons are sold to the right people. Dirty hands all the way around.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What should be black and white, ends up completely grey... July 28 2007
By Thomas Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you've ever wondered how all these poor impoverished nations waging civil wars can get their hands on seemingly endless supplies of weapons, you'll find some answers here... Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible by Douglas Farah & Stephen Braun. It's an interesting look into the murky world of arms merchants, and a big player in that game... Viktor Bout.

Contents: The Delivery Man; Planes, Guns, and Money; A Dangerous Business; Continental Collapse; At a Crossroads; The Chase Begins; The Taliban Connection; Black Charters; Gunships and Titanium; "Get Me a Warrant"; Now or Never; "We Are Very Limited in What We Can Do"; Welcome to Baghdad; Blacklisted and Still Flying; Epilogue; Notes; Index

Farah and Braun dig into the history and background of one Viktor Bout, a Russian who has built an empire in transporting cargo. Using old Soviet-era planes, often barely airworthy, he flies anything and everything into global hotspots related to war and combat. While many of the loads do involve legal items like appliances and food, quite often the trips are much more clandestine and involve massive amounts of weapons. This can be anything from crates of AK-47s to full attack helicopters. And he's not terribly selective in who he sides with. On a number of occasions, he's actually supplied the weapons for both sides of the conflict. So long as someone will pay, he'll deliver the goods. Using global shell companies and partnerships, he can change plane registrations, launder money, and operate in violation of numerous UN sanctions and restrictions. Based on the research here, it doesn't look like any of the resolutions and embargoes have had much effect on his operations. He's well-known to many governments that pay lip service to stopping him, but few have actually done anything other than posture and talk.

The interesting part of the book is towards the end, when the authors start dealing with the Iraq war and the supply of US troops. A number of the contractors who fly in supplies will subcontract with others who actually own and fly the planes. And guess who owns a number of the subcontractors? Bout. Again, it's a matter of the government knowing that this is going on, but not wanting to do anything about it as it would limit the supply line into Iraq. The US government also will not put pressure on the Russian government to shut him down, as they don't want to create waves in other areas. This is a classic example of where right and wrong is clear, but expediency and politics turn it all grey.

The only issue I have with the book is that it becomes a bit repetitive at times. The research is thorough, but after awhile it seems like an endless litany of companies, corrupt leaders, and operations in various countries. Still, it's hard not to be dismayed that people and operations like this are allowed to exist, and that it's nearly impossible for international sanctions to be effective...
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good. Dry, but good. Sept. 7 2007
By Jake McKee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you're buying this book to get a novelized version of the "Lord of War" film, look elsewhere. This book is a very, very non-fiction account of a wealth of data that has been assembled.

Don't get me wrong, this was a fascinating and interesting read. The mountain of data the authors have collected is amazing. The story this data weaves is engaging and scary all at once.

For a dry, VERY non-fiction book, it's still a very easy read.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 260page Newspaper article anyone? Aug. 5 2007
By Fred Meier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This was a fascinating book. I have none of the doubts shared above regarding the credibility of the information... these are experienced, well-informed media professionals -- they are not, however, novelists.

Read this book for a fascinating look at black market arms trafficking from Russia to the tip of Africa and the "business" of one amoral opportunist -- but don't expect engaging prose or a creative and well-structured story; the book reads like a 250+ page news article.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Scary - needs an update June 29 2011
By William Riddell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An incredibly eye opening look at the most infamous gun runner, Viktor Bout. The book is incredibly well researched, although severely in need of an update after Bouts arrest and subsequent imprisonment in Thailand as part of a DEA sting in 2008 and extradition to America late last year
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