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Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible Paperback – Apr 1 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047026196X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470261965
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 381 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #220,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Voltaire on 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Dirty Hands July 11 2007
By Kerry Walters - Published on
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
What should be black and white, ends up completely grey... July 28 2007
By Thomas Duff - Published on
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
Good. Dry, but good. Sept. 7 2007
By Jake McKee - Published on
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
260page Newspaper article anyone? Aug. 5 2007
By Fred Meier - Published on
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
Fascinating and Scary - needs an update June 29 2011
By William Riddell - Published on
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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