Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Lad Lit Book Reviews: Blow by Bruce Porter

Books For Men Book Reviews - Blow by Bruce Porter
After watching the film of the same name in which Johnny Depp depicts drug smuggler George Jung, I found myself wondering if I too should put together a high-scale cocaine smuggling operation. After all, it seemed like fun. All those parties, traveling to exotic locations, marrying Penelope Cruz. What is there not to like about it?! Okay, there is the small case of incarceration in one of America’s most notorious prisons, so before I jump at setting myself up with some unsavory Colombian friends, maybe I should explore this little venture in a bit more detail.

And that has how I found myself reading Bruce Porter’s account of How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All and here is a quick spoiler – I won’t be following up on any of those dreams of starting up my own magic Charlie (minus the chocolate) Factory.

George Jung is and was a charismatic character, who lived a spectacular life, before his spectacularly major f*ck-up at the end which saw him finally locked up for pretty much the rest of his days (he was sentenced to 60 years although he is eligible for release in November 2014). And this was the real reason I wanted to read the book – I wanted to know what happened to the man who had everything but threw it all away (even if he did get it by breaking the law!). This was, after all, a man who at one point was responsible for 90% of the cocaine smuggled into America. In layman's terms, that's a shit load of coke!

The pace of the book starts off slow, with perhaps a bit too much detail and opinion from Porter on Jung’s middle class upbringing in Massachusetts as a star high school football player. But the action starts to move along at a quicker pace once Jung arrives at university and embraces himself in the hippy 60s culture of smoking weed. But where others saw peace and love, George saw a profit and before long he was smuggling marijuana up and down the country. Even his first arrest and imprisonment didn’t deter the young man known as Boston George, especially when your cellmate happens to be mates with Pablo Escobar and offers you an in to his Medellin Cartel.

Carlos Lehder – Jung’s German/Colombian cellmate who helps open up the door to vast wealth and piles of cocaine that would make Tony Montana enviously sulk in the corner – is the catalyst for Jung’s rise and downfall. From living in a mansion where the walls are stashed with $100 bills to car-bombs and a heart-attack by his mid-30s due to too much cocaine abuse (not to mention flying out to meet Escobar and watching him execute a man), it all takes its toll on Jung who spirals out of control in a wave of paranoia and betrayal.

The rest, without going into too much detail and perhaps ruining it for anyone wants to give this a read, is a colourful and often toxic cocktail of the highs and lows Jung faced as millions of dollars poured through his hands as he single-handedly made cocaine the fashionable drug for many Americans during the 70s and 80s. Porter has done his homework, and goes into great detail to fill in a lot of gaps the film missed out. It is this insight that offers the reader so much more than depth to the complex character of George Jung; a sort-of modern-day Robin Hood until that inevitable ending when he lets the reader down just when you have bought into that fairytale.

Blow is an extraordinary story of greed and power, and ranks alongside our very own Mr Nice Howard Marks as one of those old school drug lords that you just can't help but like. No happy endings here, but one hell of a roller coaster that will throw you off the tracks at a 100mph!

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