Glenny is known as a journalist and foreign correspondent, particularly for eastern Europe, and has previously written about the Balkans and the fall of Yugoslavia. McMafia is a fascinating study of the way organised crime has spread throughout the world, with each country having its own take on the way organised crime is – well – organised. Glenny starts the journey in the former Yugoslavia, and clearly explains how cigarette smuggling and sanctions breaking led to the trafficking of all sorts of commodities from drugs to women. We are led from there to Russia, India, Nigeria, South Africa, the Middle East, Japan, China, Colombia, Brazil, Canada and the US, and many points between, and surveying the global trade in illegal goods such as narcotics, arms, women, caviar and counterfeit goods, as well as electronic crime, such as large-scale frauds and scams.
Glenny presents the results of hundreds of interviews with officials, lawyers, police officers, prosecutors, and criminals themselves, ranging from hippy pot growers in British Columbia, to yakuza in Japan. The portraits of crimes and criminals to which he devotes more time and page space are fascinating, both in finding out how crime is organised, and the motivations behind it.
It’s a really interesting and at times horrifying book – particularly when he describes the conditions of almost slavery under which prostitutes in many countries have to live; many of them trafficked women – full of anecdotes and statistics, and Glenny’s own experiences, both as he was researching this book, but also as a foreign correspondent as well. There are also more hopeful stories, such as that of the District Attorney of Albany, NY, whose tactic of not imprisoning drug offenders, but instead encouraging citizenship and community feeling, seems to have paid real dividends in reducing drug crime in his district.
Glenny also comes down to the point, which many bodies advocate, namely the legalisation of drugs, and explains why he thinks it would be a good idea to adopt (though he also admits that it would not be politically popular). He also points out that this global trade is sustained by consumers: if we didn’t buy cheap cigarettes, drugs, all sorts of household articles, DVDs, and so on, there would be no market for illegal goods. Apart from that, he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind, and appears to be a neutral observer and fair reporter of what he encounters.
It’s a thoughtful study of an important subject, it’s very readable, and there is a hefty bibliography for further investigation.