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)
Dad, tech executive, frequent flyer and driver and avid audiobook listener. Follow me on Twitter at @blakesteck.
If you've seen Billy Corben's underground success documentary, Cocaine Cowboys, you're familiar with Jon Roberts, the sharp-witted businessman and cocaine smuggler. While watching Corben's documentary, you get the sense that Roberts wasn't the violent type, but rather a logistics man and true businessman amongst Columbian cartel maniacs. Perhaps nothing could be further from the truth.
Jon Roberts, by his own admission, is pure evil. His frank discussion of murders and the violence associated with the importation and marketing of billion dollars worth of cocaine for the Medellin cartel comes across like Satan dictating his memoirs. Jon's account of growing up in the New York mafia, his early family life and his adolescence spent hustling dealers on the streets give you insight into the path he chose.
While there are few that would admit to following in his footsteps, the tell-all account proves fascinating, particularly when subsidized by commentary from the stories central characters, including Jon's sister, Judy, Jon's smuggling partner, Mickey Munday, and numerous childhood friends, lawyers and crime partners. The depth of political and judicial corruption is astounding and shows the true underpinnings of power, narcotics and money in the modern era.
Jon's story is shocking, gripping-- and at times, particularly in the Vietnam area, may be hard to sit through. I listened to the majority of this book while on a road trip, occasionally I found myself fast forwarding as Jon's account of murdering and torturing VC soldiers proved too horrifying for those riding with me. That aside, it sheds further light on the development of the Jon Roberts of the early-80s.
Evan Wright does a great job of attempting to independently confirm the majority of Roberts' unbelievable stories-- either through news clippings of the day, or directly from those associated with a specific narrative. In many cases the author is able to corroborate Roberts' story, in cases where a participant has a contrasting recollection of the events, the author is careful to provide that individual the opportunity to share their side of the story.
All in all, if you were a fan of Cocaine Cowboys, you might find yourself wading through 75% of the story before you come across familiar territory and characters. Nonetheless, the first three-quarters of the book is just as interesting and would make a fantastic film.
Let's face it, these authors aren't paying me, so there's no need to lie!!
You'll find yourself stopping throughout this book, thinking "Wait, is this a movie?". It's not. I don't care if this guy made up EVERYTHING he claims to have done, it is absolutely intriguing! He's lived one heck of a life, and if you enjoy learning about REAL criminals, you'll love this book. Well read, too.
This is my 1st audiobook -- and with the enjoyment I've had -- the one that will hook me into growing to love this medium which Audible makes so accessible.
Being based on a true story and verifiable events, which the author periodically fact checks, makes me interested in investing my time to listen. What an incredible story it is.
A spirit and human-ness to the people as the story unfolds.
The admission by the subject that he is a sociopath -- not cable of feeling emotion or empathy (mostly), which is demonstrated throughout his life events.
I wish there were 10 other audiobooks just like this one that I could fully invest myself into. Now I am left searching for other books that are worth my time.
American Desperado is written the first person perspective of Jon Roberts and other key figures of his life. Often on the written page a change in first person narration is demarcated by extra spacing between paragraphs. When the book changes perspective the audio version changes narrators. I found that the style helped cement when the novel changed perspectives and allowed for an easier listen.
Jon Roberts is an interesting figure because he is un-apologetically bad. Similar, stories to Jon's have been told in both novels and films. However, this story is unique because it does not allow you any empathy for the main character. I like to say that everyone is the hero of his own story but that is just not true for Mr. Roberts. Jon Roberts is unquestionably the villain of his story.
I really enjoyed this book. The reaction to the main character is a visceral hatred. This may be the only autobiography ever written designed to slander it's subject.
Audio book fan girl
I really liked the way the writer let John Roberts tell his story unobtrusively. And I liked the set-up at the beginning when the writer (Evan Wright) explains how he's laid out the book. That prepared me for what came. The voice of John Roberts comes across as sympathetic, brutal, and worthy of attention. This is a man who inhabits most people's nightmares, but despite that, he comes across as genuine.
My favorite scene was Hee Haw Junction (I think that was the name). It was pretty hilarious how they got out of that.
There were many parts in this book where I was horrified to find myself laughing. After all, this is a story about an unrepentant murderer and self-described sociopath. But still...some parts were just funny. In fact, I was less horrified by "John" than by the incredible ineptitude and lack of morality in law enforcement...at least as it was portrayed by John, who clearly has a vested interest in making them look that way.
The reader for John was amazing. He completely pulled off the changes in John's moods as appropriate to the story. In fact, the reader was so good, there was a subtle difference between John's younger days and his older, "wiser" days.
This was a great read due to my love of the crime genre and the honesty that the author portrays. The witness accounts does a great job of telling both sides of the story whether it conflicts with the authors side or not
Helllllooooo!!!! Jon Roberts! He lived an amazing life and seemed like he was as rational as one can be in the life he chose to live.
Jon Roberts! He sounded like the same narrator from Goodfellas to me. I don't think it was Ray Liota but he was the voice of him in that movie.
American Desperado says it all.
Say something about yourself!
OK, so I wasn't expecting too much from this book. I thought it would be like other self-serving criminal biographies with minimal details.
I was so wrong. This is a compelling read. There were moments when I cringed at the horror of this man's deeds. There were moments when I felt sorry for him.
In many ways he never had a chance. That's not to say his life wasn't his fault, but his early life and genes made it very difficult for him to act otherwise. He clearly inherited his sociopath genes from his father and his mother wasn't aware enough, or smart enough, to counteract that damage.
Bottom line? I couldn't stop listening and stayed up all night.
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?
I rank it very high but it is difficult to specify. It is definitly more intriguing and exciting than most crime novels I have read - and this is for real! So if you like that kind of books, this is an excellent choice.
I don't have a specific book to compare to. I would compare it to the crime stories most of us read but this is an unusually interesting and fascinating one - that happens to be true!
Yes! And I almost did... Not quite true, but it took only a few very long sessions.
This is one of the few books i've listened to that i'd give another go round. John roberts is a fascinating character. Sociopath, maybe. Evil, probably, however that is certainly hard to feel after getting to know the man, and get to know him you do in this open and insightful biography. Not many bios tell as much as John does, and he does so in such a mater of fact way, regardless of how frightful the scene may be.
The Godfather, however John R is some piece of work. I knew people like him then, for those who survived, they are "the old days" when you could get away with almost anything if you had ½ a brain. He is no Don corleone, Sonny, maybe…
but he ran a show, and people respected him, even if he had a thing for "those" kind of women...
the accent, most of the time, you think its John reading it himself.
Don't hate john, I've read several reviews of the book urging people not to buy it, not to support a criminal, but there's so much more here…John is a flawed human, with a conscience…a survivor, and survive he did! made millions on illegal things, yet was recognised by people close to presidents and other sorta respectable folks. Was respected by Myer Lansky. and in the end, well, after you listen to the book, and catch your breath, google him…there's more to the end of the story than in the listen.
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