July 28, 2009

Books: McMafia by Misha Glenny

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this book is the movie edition of a pulp fiction crime novel, but once you open it and look inside, you soon discover that it is instead a well-written piece of investigative journalism that reveals just how much of the world's economic dealings are linked to organised crime, which according to the author amounts to about twenty percent of the world's GDP.

Misha Glenny is a reporter who made his name at the BBC and the Guardian reporting on the collapse of communism in the late eighties/early nineties and then the Balkan Wars that followed. It is the knowledge and experience he gained in this period that have allowed him to explore the present day world of organised crime. In the course of the book, he visits all corners of the world demonstrating the extensive reach of criminal activity executed in the search of maximum profit.

Glenny traces the rapid rise of organised crime from localised gangs to a truly global concern back to the twin collapse of communism and the deregulation of global financial markets which happened at around the same time. Even before the final collapse of the Iron curtain Eastern European states were involved in the illicit smuggling or arms and drugs as a means of propping up the ailing economies of their countries. Once communism suddenly collapsed, an out of work police force together with steroid-popping weight-lifters as muscle, suddenly found that they had had good grounding in how to get rich quick.

The chapters that focus on Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union come across as the strongest as it is in these areas that Glenny is clearly more knowledgeable. He also visits India, Brazil, Dubai, South Africa, China and Japan on his travels, each time showing how enterprising individuals with little respect for the law or lives of others have becoming ridiculously wealthy in a short period of time off the back of illegal business activities. The chapters on the Far East are, by comparison to the rest of the book, a less satisfying in their scope, but given the huge scope of this project it is almost inevitable that some parts will be weaker than others.

At times some of the stories are shocking, and at others they are heartbreaking, yet all show what can happen if the untamed pursuit of profit is allowed to develop and grow without regulation.

An eye-opening book that shows the darker side of how today's world really works.

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