In 2008 veteran journalist Evan Wright, acclaimed for his New York Times best-selling book Generation Kill and co-writer of the Emmy-winning HBO series it spawned, began a series of conversations with super-criminal Jon Roberts, star of the fabulously successful documentary Cocaine Cowboys. Those conversations would last three years, during which time Wright came to realize that Roberts was much more than the de-facto “transportation chief” of the Medellin Cartel during the 1980s, much more than a facilitator of a national drug epidemic. As Wright’s tape recorder whirred and Roberts unburdened himself of hundreds of jaw-dropping tales, it became clear that perhaps no one in history had broken so many laws with such willful abandon.
Roberts, in fact, seemed to be a prodigy of criminality – but one with a remarkable self-awareness and a fierce desire to protect his son from following the same path.
American Desperado is Roberts’ no-holds-barred account of being born into Mafia royalty, witnessing his first murder at the age of seven, becoming a hunter-assassin in Vietnam, returning to New York to become -- at age 22 -- one of the city’s leading nightclub impresarios, then journeying to Miami where in a few short years he would rise to become the Medellin Cartel’s most effective smuggler.
But that’s just half the tale.
The roster of Roberts’ friends and acquaintances reads like a Who’s Who of the latter half of the 20th century and includes everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor, and O.J. Simpson to Carlo Gambino, Meyer Lansky, and Manuel Noriega.
Nothing if not colorful, Roberts surrounded himself with beautiful women, drove his souped-up street car at a top speed of 180 miles per hour, shared his bed with a 200-pound cougar, and employed a 6”6” professional wrestler called “The Thing” as his bodyguard. Ultimately, Roberts became so powerful that he attracted the attention of the Republican Party’s leadership, was wooed by them, and even was co-opted by the CIA for which he carried out its secret agenda.
Scrupulously documented and relentlessly propulsive, this collaboration between a bloodhound journalist and one of the most audacious criminals ever is like no other crime book you’ve ever read. Jon Roberts may be the only criminal who changed the course of American history.
©2011 Evan Wright (P)2011 Random House Audio
“The Moby Dick of mob memoirs… here is everything you've wanted to know - and much better, here is the way everything felt. Evan Wright puts you so deep inside a career in organized crime that midway through you'll begin expecting a knock on your door and a call from your lawyer.” (David Lipsky, author of the national best seller Absolutely American)
"Delivers all the guilty pleasures one expects from a gangster's memoir, but Wright's superb prose offers something more: a meditation on good and evil during the glittering decay of late 20th century civilization… One of the best books of the year.” (James L. Swanson, Edgar Award winning author of the New York Times best sellers Manhunt and Bloody Crimes)
“American Desperado is not only stranger but so much better than fiction…Captivating, addictive, and head-spinning, this one-of-a-kind book earns its place on the top shelf of true crime accounts.” (Chuck Hogan, New York Times bestselling author of Prince of Thieves, basis of the Academy Award-nominated The Town)
I was impressed by the Cocaine Cowboys documentary, and Jon Roberts on screen.
Here we find the basic grandiose 1950s-60s male American teen-to-young-adult personality: plenty of drugs, a very movie-influenced imagination, all outrageous stunts and stories. It always centers on the one guy and always is beyond reality, more violent and risky, more famous people there, right in the crux of every big event. Most of these guys got a little humility or just burned out and disappeared; some are still here to drone on over dinner about this or that big prank. A lot grew out of the G.I. men's culture going back to WW2. But this guy still has to be the star of every show in history in his own mind. (Or at least, a clever salesman of books now, with a keen sense of what the "true crime genre" buyer wants to hear.) Yeah, some of it is doubtless true, some "larger than life" (in a very scumbag way). But hey, he was everywhere and met everyone? He was a jungle warrior in 'Nam, diving out of planes into the jungles, but there's no record of Jon's military service? Faced off with John Gotti with gangs of guys in Gotti's basement (how did his army get into Gotti's basement past Gotti's guards yet all carrying guns? I get all these big question marks. Dosed Ed Sullivan with acid, tracked down Sullivan's physician, intimidated the physician and effectively blackmailed Sullivan to shut up?
There is a difference between movies and reality; the actors survive these incredible scenes because it is according to a script. The enemies are playing along, the effects people carefully set up the stunts and use pro stunt personnel. There are many takes to get it perfect. Physicians and insurance companies stand by. It is in my opinion astronomically improbable that a real guy could squeak through all these daily death-defying events (straight out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, far surpassing any Scorsese movie) and survive. Five times, ten times, two dozen times, OK, but hundreds of times? This is like the peak moments of continuous movies end-to-end. Always as colorful and dramatic as a movie? At is as if the guy is still hanging around a nightclub, BS'ing the impressionable. That is his schtick. Dude, even the 80s was decades ago. (Yawn.)
However, If a tenth of this is true, it is an amazing story, of a real sadistic creep. (In cleverer moments, he sees himself as a reflective of the society's dark side; hired to be what he was, in effect, by people who wanted to keep their hands clean but brush up against his danger; shades of Mike Tyson.) But its all hyped to the point of exhaustion. One way or another, Jon Roberts sold a cinematic sort of drama to the dumb money of this world, and made out pretty well. Is he still doing that here?
this book was a page turner from start to finish. I really had a great time reading it. I recommend this book to anyone.
So interesting, the story could go on forever!! The only thing that could be better is the narrator...... I heard Jon Roberts speak during "Cocaine Cowboys", his voice would of been perfect to tell his own story.
This is by no means a changed man! He only became a secret assets to cover his butt. From the beginning he's still a cold hearted, unkind, vicious dog toting monster. I didn't even want to waste my time listening to the rest of this book! You can tell from the outset and the beginning of the interview process for the book, there are no redeeming qualities in this man, none! The people who rate it so highly are those who want to hear all the gory details of a life of murder and crime.
Wow, the stuff that was going on when i was in high school and college. The women, the money, the incredible crazy... Have to say, it made me a little jealous, made me consider the choices i made, the times in my own life that this other plane of existence, consciousness, invited me to come on board and whether i regret taking the safe path.
Mechanically well done: sources cited when important; clear and easy to follow timeline, skillfully identified characters without a 'jumble' of names and dates. Very enjoyable entertainment, interesting history, and something to think about!
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