McMafia, by Misha Glenny

January 27, 2011 at 01:00 (Book Reviews, Crime and Law Enforcement, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Politics, Twentieth Century) (, , , , )


It is refreshing to find a journalist who can write intelligently and grippingly about the past; it is incredibly rare to find one who can write a book about contemporary events without overhyping the silliest events to prove all sorts of absurd private obsessions. Misha Glenny’s unparalleled studies in Eastern Europe ably prove his abilities, but McMafia (despite its rather tabloidesque title) proves his focus and his ability as an investigative contemporary historian, his bravery as a researcher and his excellence as a writer.

Glenny clearly holds some very defined opinions about globalisation, and the correct course of action governments ought to take in stemming corruption and staunching cash hemmorhages, but this is not an opinionated book. This is chiefly an explanation as to how these things work, why they happen and how they relate to twenty first century politics, trade and crime. It is remarkable how well Glenny keeps his own pontificating and his private beliefs to himself, and how objectively he writes–despite the occasional proof that he does care very deeply about certain issues above others.

Like all contemporary historians, there are the ubiquitous “this-really-happened” stories, and the attempts to engage the reader by providing detailed anecdotal accounts of events that happened to touch the author personally–things that he might be uniquely qualified to answer or explain–and in McMafia, these stories are recollected soberly and without the melodrama usually associated with such incidental inclusions. In a rare yet pleasing phenomenon, these additions complement the edifice that Glenny sets his sights to build, and provide relevant background to his research, rather than momentary relief for bored readers adrift in a deluge of dreary facts and figures.

As far as the focus of this book, it seems very probable that it will age slowly. Predictions of the next few decades of the century are level-headed and conservative rather than sensational, and a great deal of time and effort goes towards explanation rather than shaky interpretation. Glenny has written a first rate contemporary history, and a very valuable – and readable – insight into the dark side of globalisation.


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