Wednesday, September 9, 2020

MS-13 :: Steven Dudley

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Steven Dudley's MS-13: The Making of America's Most Notorious Gang comes when an educated voice is needed on the subject of the gang's impact on world violence and, equally importantly, political maneuvering. Dudley is abundantly qualified to write on the subject as the co-director of InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to studying organized crime. Dudley works with numerous investigators and contributors to offer a more complete and accurate view of how organized crime works and its impact on public policy.

MS-13 is specifically about the Mara Salvatrucha, the ruthless street gang that has spread across countries and continents. Dudley details the origins of MS-13 and its operations, both generally and through specific experiences of a few individuals. "These stories allow us to trace the history of the gang from its beginnings in Los Angeles to its export to El Salvador and other Central American nations, and back again." The sections of the book (origins, maturation, efforts to extricate) mirror life faced by members who are enveloped, become serious, then try to leave.

Dudley addresses the Trump administration's comparison of the gang to Al-Qaeda as a means to rid the U.S. of "criminal aliens." While MS-13 is a threat that trades on its reputation for brutal murders, it is also greatly misunderstood, its power erroneously likened to much more sophisticated groups. Dudley's reporting is unsurprisingly complex, with extraordinary sections on methodology and notes, bibiography and index following the main text. A deep dive written in plain prose backed by years of research, MS-13 is a remarkable resource for thorough understanding.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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