El Narco Book Book


I’m a journalist and writer based in Mexico City. I’ve been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media including Time Magazine, CNN, Reuters, The Houston Chronicle, The Associated Press, GlobalPost, France 24, CBC, The Sunday Telegraph, Letras Libres and many others. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, BBC and Guardian. I am author of the books Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America (released 2016) and El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (released 2011).

I started covering drug cartels from my early days here. I was always fascinated by the riddle of these ghost like figures who made $30 billion a year, were idolized in popular songs and miraculously escaped the Mexican army and DEA. Over the decade I followed the mystery to endless murder scenes on bullet-ridden streets, mountains where drugs are born as pretty flowers, and scarred criminals from prison cells to luxury condos.

During the same time, Mexico’s drug war morphed into a horrific conflict with brutal beheadings, massacres and mass graves. Journalists here found ourselves reporting on a human tragedy of epic proportions – with a never-ending trail of grieving parents and atrocities comparable to brutal civil wars. The need for better understanding to help find a way out of this hole has become more important than ever.

We foreign journalists all have to turn to our homelands for part of that solution. I grew up in sunny England, near the seaside city of Brighton – famous for its pink candy, pebble beaches, colleges and bubbling night clubs. It is also one of Britain’s top places for drug consumption, switching with the fashions from Moroccan hashish to Turkish heroin to Colombian cocaine. Few there ever think about where the mind-bending substances come from or what they might give or takeaway from those countries. In Europe and the United States a hard discussion on our drug habits and policy is long overdue.

As well as following drug trafficking empires, I cover the other major issues of Latin America such as natural disasters (including the Haiti earthquake), the battle between left and right (including the Honduras coup), and the vast human wave of emigration to El Norte. I was a consultant for the International Crisis Group for its first two reports on Mexico. I also love music and cover it whenever I get a chance. I co-directed a series of three short films with John Dickie, which all include a good dose of Latin American hip hop. They are Barrios Beats and Blood, Bajamar Ballad, and The Gangsters’ Granny.


I’ve been part of teams getting the following silverware:

El Narco longlisted for The Orwell Prize, March 2013

El Narco chosen by Foreign Policy en Espanol as one of its books of the year, December 2012

Peabody Award for On Location Video series by GlobalPost, April 2012

El Narco finalist at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, April 2012

El Narco chosen as BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, January 2012

Society of American Business Editors and Writers First Prize 2011,
for Global Post series Narconomics

El Narco nominated for The Guardian First Book Award 2011

Barrios, Beats and Blood received an Honorary Mention
at the Monterrey International Film Festival 2011

NY Press Club Journalism Award 2011 in the Spot News/Internet category
for coverage by Time.com of the Haiti earthquake

Edward R. Murrow award 2011 for On Location Video series by Global Post

Nomination for The Webby Awards 2010 for On Location Video series by Global Post

Society of American Business Editors and Writers First Prize 2009
for Global Post Coverage of world economic crisis

Link to Author Q and A

Ioan Grillo

"Reading Gangster Warlords is a like riding shotgun through the darkest battlefields of the drug war with a hardboiled narcotics detective at the wheel. You won't want to get out of the car."

― Nick Miroff, Latin American correspondent, The Washington Post

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Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgencyel narco book bloomsburyindieboundpowellsbarnes nobleamazon