Book reviews – ‘McMafia’ by Misha Glenny
We asked six Bristol Festival of Ideas fans to review some of the books shortlisted for this year’s Book Prize. Here are their responses to Misha Glenny’s McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime:
Review by Dimitris Christopoulos:
Misha Glenny deals with the prevalence of crime in our everyday life. He traces the occurrence and influence of crime in the four corners of the world and shocks his readers with the far reaching implications of illicit activities that surround us. He produces a powerful and eloquent account. Cases of crime seem often so outlandish that the reader can mistake them for fiction. The pervasiveness of crime and its consequences is shocking. We inevitably draw the conclusion that we are highly interconnected in the global village and unfortunately it is often crime that connects us.
Glenny exposes cases of illegal and trafficked labour, trafficking of narcotics, prostitution, theft and tax evasion, intellectual property infringement, cyber crime and offshore banking. Through a detailed series of case studies we are offered evidence of the incredible size and scope of the activities of international crime syndicates and the inability or unwillingness of states to deal with them. Indeed it seems like most of the fight against crime consists of fire-fighting. There are very few attempts at addressing the causes of this condition. Glenny suggests that strong and well equipped law enforcement is the basis on which regulatory change should produce the required results. For instance, more regulation of financial markets and less regulation of the labour and agricultural sectors. This however appears to prescribe more regulation where there are regulatory failures. In that respect crime and the shadow economy are considered as just instances of failure in political control which understates their underlying causes. These causes may require much more than just updating the regulatory environment. In this book we are offered a thorough description of the many facets of contemporary crime.
Review by Hilary Finch:
A roller coaster of a read covering virtually the entire world of seriously organised crime. It made me think that whatever world leaders organise at their global meetings, G20 or any other will be seriously undermined by the huge international networks, cartels and organisations that set themselves up sometimes alongside the licit ones.
A fascinating read, at one level exciting and at another level deeply depressing. There are some wonderful descriptions of the characters Misha Glenny gets to know and interview and the areas they work in. The interwoven nature of crime globally is mind-boggling and not just because they skirt so closely with the banks, politics and legal enterprises around the world.
Misha Glenny’s style is easy to read and amazingly droll. He is a journalist and historian and covers a huge fact base with ease and grace and even humour. His full blown information gave me confidence that what I was reading was real and not something out of movie land.
Review by Charles Freeman:
In his McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime, the veteran Balkans reporter Misha Glenny provides a superb study of international criminal gangs and their exploitation of failed states. Glenny’s research is meticulous and enhanced by the often dangerous forays he made into remote areas of the world where multi-billionaire bosses vie with each other for control of drugs, prostitutes and tobacco. This is a book that holds one’s attention and admiration for the writer to the end.
Review by Barry Ramshaw:
According to figures quoted by Glenny, the ‘shadow economy’ accounts for up to 20% of global turnover.
This forensic investigation of worldwide crime shows the big picture without ever losing sight of the real lives destroyed by the New Mafias.
Whether they are Serbian cigarette smugglers, Middle Eastern money launderers or Chinese people traffickers, the author explains how such syndicates pose a threat to the stability of society on every continent. Risking his personal safety, Glenny reports from the front line, exposing the dark side of the global economy.
Ultimately, the author does not accuse globalisation itself for this grim situation; instead he blames the incompetent regulation of world markets by timid politicians.
However, his plea for efficient global governance seems optimistic in light of the current worldwide failure to deal effectively with even ‘legitimate’ financial systems, and it is hard not to be both horrified by the current chaos described in this powerful book and pessimistic for the future.
Review by Gina Sargunar:
This powerful book explains the cause and effect of crime, the extent to which governments are complicit in, and encourage, its spread, and just how inter-connected and inter-dependent the underworld is. It explains why we face the kinds of crime we do, how impossible to eradicate it will prove, and why globalisation is a double-edged sword.
From the relatively ‘mild’ crimes of buying pirated DVDs or cheap cigarettes, through to assassination and torture – the inescapable truth is that we are all complicit in the spread of organised crime if we continue to turn a blind eye.
Review by Mark Tyler:
McMafia is a cold, hard account of how organised crime has developed across the world over the last few decades. Misha Glenny appears to have done extensive research and this shows in his detailed description of the complex networks that operate globally.
Drugs, people trafficking, tobacco and even technological crime are all delved into along with the gangster groups from each part of the world that associate themselves with particular areas of business.
One aspect of the book which I found particularly interesting was the chapters dedicated to the period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Glenny paints an extremely vivid picture of the volatile societies that began to rise from the ashes of communism. His image of post-communist Eastern Europe is one of corrupt and seedy societies where, it would seem, the biggest dog wins if only until one with sharper teeth or more friends turns up.
In the UK we may feel limited in our exposure to the underworld of organised crime; however McMafia makes it very clear that as a nation we are largely responsible for the way that it has developed. Money talks and the last two decades of increased disposable income has resulted in an increase in demand for black market goods, be it a cheeky DVD down the local pub, to the sneaky line of Bolivian marching powder in the club, to the time spent with a woman held against her will in a country far from her home.
I initially found it hard to fathom how engrained within our Western capitalistic society the mafiosa element is, but as I progressed through the book the more apparent it became. In short I feel that the book was engaging, detailed and at times downright scary.
Click here to read an interview with Misha Glenny.
Read more about the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize here.Jump to top 1 Comment »
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