Pros:Anything and everything you might want to know about the cocaine industry is here.
Cons:This book was re-published for the film, but doesn't include significant amounts of new information.
The Bottom Line: This book is a must read for anyone interest in American pop culture and the people who helped to shape it.
Those of you who have recently seen Ted Demme's film version of this book might be inclined to think that George Jung is a character who is worthy of our sympathy. I urge anyone who thinks like that to read this book.
Recommend this product?
Journalist Bruce Porter has succeeded in giving an objective look at the life of history's number importer of narcotics into the United States. George Jung rose above his status of a reckless, middle class high school football star to enter into a life of wine, women, song and a whole mountain of cocaine. Porter gives us every up and down of George's helter skelter ride through the American drug culture.
The early parts of Demme's film are actually in line with the film. George was raised by a loving, hardworking father and a mother who was never satisfied. She left her middle class family numerous times, only to come crawling back again and again. Betrayal would become a common theme in Georges's life and it all started at home.
Once he was old enough to leave home, George sought the sand and sun of California's Manhattan Beach. This is where George really started to come of age, and this is also where Porter's book really takes off.
George moved to California at a time where every Southern Cal cliche seemed to be true. LSD and marijuana were available everywhere, the women were beautiful and the beaches provided a party 24-7. George had sworn to himself that he would never be forced to work for a living like his old man, who had been broken by life. With the drug culture in full swing, it just seemed obvious to George that he become involved in the trade.
Enter Richard Barile, Manhattan Beach's best known male hairdresser. He had the supply and George had the demand. Together they started making more money than George had ever seen. However, just as betrayal became a theme throughout George's life, so did restlessness. Nothing was enough. Why should he and Richard be working for someone else and taking the highest amount of risk? The logical conclusion became to steal a plane and start flying mary jane in from Mexico themselves. The days of being middle men appeared over.
Then came the first big bust. George found himself busted for selling 600 plus pounds of marijuana to a guy who had recently become a born again good citizen and was wearing a wire for some law enforcement officials. Oops. Now George was on the run and went to the only place where he thought he might be safe. Of course his folks didn't approve of his new found occupation, and his mother may of may not have turned her son into the FBI. Whether she went turncoat on her family again or not is not known for sure, but what was sure was that George was on his way to the Danbury Federal Pen, home to luminaries such as G. Gordon Liddy. For those of you who don't know who G. Gordon Liddy is, please turn off your computer and go back to school.
Rather than see prison as some form of punishment or a chance to re-habilitate himself; George instead found himself enrolled in crime school. He minored in money laundering and thanks to a diminutive Columbia named Carlos Lehder, he majored in cocaine.
Carlos may have been weak physically and in need of George's protection, but he had some powerful friends on the outside. Using Carlos as an in and sharing his knowledge of smuggling drugs into and throughout the United States, George was soon able to make some Columbian contacts of his own. The new wonder drug in American was going to be cocaine. Hook the rock stars and actors and the American public would follow.
This was how the cocaine industry started an empire that had it been legal, would have reached number 6 on the Fortune 500. George's Columbian partners took in some $35 billion from their association and George would net about $100 million himself. There are actually some amusing recollections from George on having to buy an entire house just to story money in. The walls and vents were stacked with hundred dollar bills, and there was never enough space for it all. Soon came George's less than wise decision to put about $60 million in a Panama bank run by Manuel Noriega. Oops again. Yet another betrayal that may have kept George in the business longer than he really wanted, which of course would one day lead to his downfall.
Another betrayal came at the hands of Carlos Lehder. Having met George's Californian hairdresser, George found himself cut out of the loop. This betrayal would be the one that George could never get over. His obsession with Carlos led to serious lapses in his judgement and might also have contributed heavily to his downfall.
However, the dude abides. George was blessed with more good luck than W. Every time one old friend turned his back on George, new friends would emerge. Every time a new friend went turncoat an old friend would come crawling back. Every bust came with a bond and a jump. And George even found himself a cocaine addict, kinky sex obsessed and most importantly Columbian, wife related to a member of Pablo Escobar's Cartel. George was back in business.
However, the restlessness would never allow him to stop. His lack of judgement combined with that restlessness caused him to team up with two guys he didn't really know. Well, turns out these guys were DEA. Shoot.
The story that leads up to the bust that would earn George a 60-year sentence is actually pretty funny. George had just jumped bond again when he met the cops and had absolutely no connections. These cops had to hang out with George and his creepy friends for months doing absolutely nothing. A couple of fights even led to the agents committing more crimes than George over his time period. When they finally were able to put something together, the guys had gotten to like George so well they almost didn't want to bust him.
Of course, fate would smile on George again as his arrest was soon followed by the arrest of Carlos Lehder. Carlos made the mistake of saying he'd testify against Escobar and the entire Cartel. Escobar then told George to go ahead and turn rat of Carlos and make sure Senor Lehder took the hard fall for the whole enterprise. It worked like a charm and George found himself a free and apparently reformed man.
That is where the book actually ends because it was written nearly 10 years ago. Since then George has turned his commercial fishing business into a marijuana smuggling business. Some guys just don't learn.
Of course we don't learn much of that as Porter's new epilogue is all of four pages long. Every major player in the cocaine biz is given a brief "where are they now" kind of treatment. I would have hoped that re-publication might have been motivation enough to write a bit more of what had happened since the book first came out.
Other than that the book is first rate. It starts out slowly as we cover George, the younger years, but it really picks up the pace the deeper George gets into the cocaine industry. Porter uses extensive interviews with George, Richard Barile, former girlfriends of George, law enforcement officials and other players in the story to give a full and honest look at the business of cocaine as a whole and George's part in it. George's comments are at times self-serving, but Porter never allows his own writing to go that way. We see George as not only charismatic and cunning, but as a heavy drug user, a womanizer and a paranoid control freak.
The mark of any good biography is to make a person's life seem worth knowing about without skewing the truth. Too many biographies are written by fans with an agenda. Porter gives us the full look at a man who helped shape a part of American culture. You get the good, you get the bad, you get them both and their you have the facts of George.
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