Narcotopia by Patrick Winn

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Narcotopia:

Apparently, you can’t trust a spy agency.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the narco-state in Burma.

Fact for Non-History People:

This narco-state has a larger military than Sweden or Kenya.

Fact for History Nerds:

The Southeast Asia drug trade generates $60 billion each year in meth alone.

My Take on Narcotopia:

Who would have thought that you can’t trust a spy agency? Oh, everyone knew that already? Well, Patrick Winn’s Narcotopia is a wonderful example of how doing the “right” thing can be extremely objective.

Narcotopia tells the story of how a section of Burma became a massive and lasting narco-state while battling the CIA and the DEA. Well, the CIA and DEA were there, but the biggest dangers came from the various groups within Burma. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, or they wanted to destroy the pie.

I had very little background on this subject before I started the book. Stories with massive scope can often devolve into becoming a list of names too large for anyone to remember. I am happy to report Winn does not fall into this trap. While this is a wide-ranging narrative, most of the action is focused on a man named Saw Lu, who at the very least, is one of the most stubborn men to ever exist. I won’t say more, but trust me, this guy did not know the definition of quit.

You get to learn all about the various groups in Burma and Winn does a great job world building without overwhelming the reader. He also explains the rivalry between the CIA and DEA in the War on Drugs. I should mention that Winn comes off rather strong about what criticisms he will level against these organizations in his introduction. I did worry this would become a long diatribe against American policy and turn this from history to sociology. Winn, once again, uses a deft touch and his criticisms are valid and backed by solid reasoning even if you may not agree. The CIA certainly takes the brunt of it, which was fine with me as the son of a DEA agent. This story contains a lot of gray areas and Winn never loses sight of that. It’s a must read.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and PublicAffairs.)


An absolutely fascinating story. Buy it here!

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