Posted in book review

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman


Every once in a while comes a book that shakes you to the core. Confessions of an Economic Hitman is one of them. Written by John Perkins, it details a personal account of how one man helped a powerful nation stamp its authority on the world and transform itself into a global empire, mostly using unfair means.

Let me make something clear from the start. The term hitman in this case does not mean someone hired to kill. Rather Perkins is a hitman in the economic sense of the word, which means he is called upon to do financial deals with governments (mainly of developing countries) to develop/upgrade the country’s infrastructure and alleviate the millions of its citizens from poverty. Yet it is not as simple as it looks.

Recruited as an analyst by the NSA (the intelligence gathering agency of the USA, the same one that taps into your…

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Posted in book review, Current affairs

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

Every once in a while comes a book that shakes you to the core. Confessions of an Economic Hitman is one of them. Written by John Perkins, it details a personal account of how one man helped a powerful nation stamp its authority on the world and transform itself into a global empire, mostly using unfair means.

Let me make something clear from the start. The term hitman in this case does not mean someone hired to kill. Rather Perkins is a hitman in the economic sense of the word, which means he is called upon to do financial deals with governments (mainly of developing countries) to develop/upgrade the country’s infrastructure and alleviate the millions of its citizens from poverty. Yet it is not as simple as it looks.

Recruited as an analyst by the NSA (the intelligence gathering agency of the USA, the same one that taps into your phones and listens to your conversations), the author started his work as an Economic Hitman (abbreviated as EHM) for a big company called MAIN. As an EHM, Perkins was trained to inflate the economic forecasts in his projections for his client countries which would help them secure a loan from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), three institutions in which the US enjoys significant privileges. The upside of making such inflated forecasts was that the host country would get money to develop projects, but the loan would be so huge that the country would ultimately default. This is where the advantage to US lied. The host country would then become a puppet of the US, making political and economic decisions that suit the world’s most powerful country. These countries were also then expected to side with the US on matters of international debate that would suit their interests.

One such telling example is that of Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War between the Arabic states and Israel where the US sided with the latter, the Arab states imposed a complete oil embargo on the US causing panic in the country. In a chapter titled the Saudi Arabian Money Laundering Affair, the author describes how the US forced the Saudi Arabians to purchase US securities, whose interest would be used to finance the infrastructure projects that changed the landscape of Saudi Arabian deserts. In return, the US received a guarantee of continuous oil supply, at prices suitable to them. This arrangement legitimized the rule of the House of Saud in the peninsula and deterred any other state from making an attack on it as it was backed by US military. The author also states that the US knew that the Saudi Arabian government was financing terrorists and chose to turn a blind eye to it as it was more focused on getting the oil.

Panama and Venezuela also offer classic cases. In the former, the US killed a popular leader who wanted the Panama Canal to be restored to Panama and instead installed a puppet leader in his place-Manuel Noriega-who was a paid CIA informant for years. Even though Noriega made his money as a CIA agent and more so as a drug trafficker, the US chose to turn a blind eye to the latter as long as its interest was served. But when Noriega began to turn on the US, they brought him to trial in the US and imprisoned him. A similar thing was repeated in Venezuela. When Hugo Chavez was elected as President in 1998, he replaced the US stooges in the national oil company with his own trusted people and doubled the hydrocarbon tax, which doubled the royalties that foreign oil companies had to pay to Venezuela. The then US ambassador to the country admitted to paying high ranking generals in the army and opposition leaders to dissent against Chavez, which almost resulted in his overthrow

Perkins says that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, US policies took a turn to the worst. Rather than putting money to catch the terrorists, they were more focussed on gathering new oil sources from the Middle East-by attacking Iraq. According to reports, Iraq has more oil than Saudi Arabia and if US could get a piece of the reserves-by attacking and then rebuilding Iraq-which it did, it would ensure itself of a supply of cheap oil for generations to come and could also distance itself from Saudi Arabia, where the 9/11 terrorists came from. The plan to attack Iraq, even when other countries opposed it, is a testament to the fact that the US and its President at that time, George W. Bush, were more concerned about filling up their oil coffers than the legality and impact of their decisions. But when the Iraq affair did not go as planned and the supply of oil was threatened due to continuous war, the US turned south in search of oil-to the Amazon, and in particular to Ecuador. In that country, the US followed the same tactics-making inflated forecasts for economic projections so that the host country could get huge loans for making dams, hospitals etc. The US oil companies found an effective ally to deal with the local population- Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).

SIL is a non-profit organization aimed at documenting and promoting the lesser known languages of the world. In the case of Ecuador, whenever an oil company found huge deposits, SIL missionaries would visit that place and convince the local population to leave by offering them free food and clothes at another place. If the people decided to stay, then other tactics were used to force them to move, such as spiking their food which would lead them to having diseases they had never heard about. The author alleges that SIL would place transmitters in the food packages provided to the people and as soon as they heard that some person got sick, they would immediately reach the area with the required medicine and treat the people. This resulted in people seeing SIL as their saviours and moving to other places as instructed.  

In this article, I have not elaborated on the case of Iran, but the other cases should give you an idea as to what is happening in the world today and how one superpower is trying to control and modify the world just because it can. It also helped me to make sense of some of the events. One of the questions I always had was why the US continued to side with Saudi Arabia in spite of its horrendous human rights record and its open support for terrorist organizations.  The chapter on the money laundering affair helped me understand the issue from a new perspective.

John Perkins’s book helps throw light on the madness and ruthlessness that defines US foreign policy and how in the name of development, their only concern is about political and economic leverage over developing countries. This is a must read book for everyone who wants to make sense of the world politics as it is today. This will be a difficult read, more so because it is a topic where people will have different viewpoints. But if one man at the heart of it all has made such an effort to educate people about the actions of the US, it is our duty as the readers to make sure that this reaches as many people as possible.

Posted in book review, thriller

Book Review: The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

The last week was a Frederick Forsyth frenzy for me. First I read The Negotiator (a review for which will be coming up in the next few weeks) and then I picked up The Kill List. Having been a fan of Forsyth’s works (since I read The Day of the Jackal), I knew I would not be disappointed and I wasn’t.

The Kill List deals with the all familiar topic of rising Islamic terrorism in Europe and USA. After a few people are murdered in apparent terrorist attacks, the investigating agencies quickly determine that the common denominator in all these murders was the sermons of a man codenamed the Preacher found on the attackers’ computers. With the crimes designated as a terrorist act, the US quickly finds a man who would lead a team to track and eliminate the man responsible.

The Tracker (the one responsible for the operation) is a Marine and the novel details his travels to countries like UK, Pakistan and ultimately Somalia in order to catch the perpetrator. The book also includes a subplot involving the Swedes that lends some suspense to the storyline.

Like most of his work, the book  exemplifies the collaborative work and intelligence sharing practiced by US and UK agencies and their deep distrust of the ISI in Pakistan. In the end, it is the UK Special Forces which play a major role in achieving the objective and helping their Cousins (as the US are called in the UK) catch the culprit.

The book is fast paced and the reader does not feel bored even for a single page. Any facts about the agency involved are kept by the author to a minimum and all the characters are well formed. Overall this book is a nice read, but does not reach the standard established by The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File. I rate this work 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Book Review: The Best We Could Do

There are certain books which come out at a time when the political situations are just right for their publication. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, written by John le Carre and published in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, was one such book. It mirrored the feelings and tensions of the spies on both sides of the war. Along similar lines, The Best We Could Do is a book written by Vietnamese-American author Thi Bui, published at the height of the campaign against immigration in America.

Written in autobiographical form, the book does not deal with immigration per se, but with the problems that the author and her siblings face in understanding the behavior of their parents. The book opens with the author giving birth to her son in a hospital in New York when midway during her labor, her mother leaves the room. The author feels let down that she left when she was needed the most. In the case of her father, the author associates him with cigarettes and grumpiness. In an effort to find the reason for such behavior of her parents, she decides to go back in time and search for the origin of their story. This search forms the crux of the book.

On retracing the steps of her parents, she finds that both of them led very different childhoods-while her father grew up in poverty and was often hungry, her mother grew up in luxury, but had an overbearing mother who she resented. But the real trouble started during the Vietnam War when the family had to flee the country to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The conditions in the camp and the hardships the family (especially her parents) had to endure after coming to America made her understand the reasons for their behavior. After giving birth to a child and having started a family, she realizes “that as a parent, we simply do the best we can do.”

Although the Vietnam War serves as a backdrop, the author chooses not to focus much on the political climate, but on the impact these situations had on the people, and on her parents in particular. The novel is poignant and makes you think about the sacrifices your parents have made for you in a whole different light, because like those of the author, they too did the best they could do.

Posted in book review, india, writing

Book Review: An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor

History is in the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present.

The sun never set on the British Empire because even God didn’t trust the British in the dark.

 -Shashi Tharoor

Although colonialism is an issue of the past, people belonging to former colonies (including me) have a certain resentment towards our erstwhile colonists about the way in which they have downplayed the whole issue of imperialism. Coming from India and now studying in the Netherlands, I frequently broach the topic about colonial history with my Dutch and Spanish friends, and I am surprised to hear that they know very little about that part of their history. So along with the entire country, I got very excited when the Oxford Union debate video of Shashi Tharoor-a well known Indian author and parliamentarian- on whether Britain owes reparations to India, became viral on social media. The video received huge positive response and motivated the author to write a book on the topic, aptly titled An Era of Darkness.

In the book inspired by the reactions to a speech, the author explains in his eloquent style the systematic plunder of India by the East India Company. Not set in chronological order, the author talks about the political, economic and social impact of the British rule on India and its citizens in different chapters in the book. He gives facts to counter the view of the apologists of colonial rule saying that there are many countries in the world which had railways, democracy and the rule of law without having the need to be colonized. The book is an easy and interesting read, whereby the author takes you along a historic journey and you do not feel as if facts are merely thrown at you, as is the case many times in books dealing with this topic.

The book has left a deep impression on me and although I agree with the author that the present cannot be held accountable for the past, I believe that the one pound per year remuneration for 200 years as suggested by the author as well as the public acknowledgement by the British royalty or the parliament on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 2019 would be atonement enough to appease the Indian public.

P.S.: The link for the debate that led to this novel can be found here: Debate


Posted in book review, writing

Book Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

After the conclusion of the famous Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy, which was not received well by critics. Disconnect with the characters, was how Ashley Ross writing for TIME described the reason behind the novel’s debacle. So Rowling returned with another series of books, attempting a serialization like one in the Harry Potter saga. And in an effort to maintain gender neutrality (which she did in Harry Potter by writing her name as J.K. Rowling instead of Joanne Rowling), she writes the new series under the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.

The Silkworm is the second book of the Strike series, which first began with The Cuckoo’s Calling. The book features Cormoran Strike, a private detective and Robin, his secretary cum sidekick, who solve the case of the disappearance of an author, Owen Quine. Quine writes novels that are not too well received in the market and disappears after being told that his new book is not publishable. After being contacted by Quine’s wife over his disappearance, Strike begins the hunt for him, which culminates in him finding Quine’s body doused in acid with his entrails missing. The murder committed is gruesome and is straight out of Quine’s unpublished work. The rest of the book follows Strike and Robin as they try to find the killer.

Rowling continues in her efforts to get away from the tag of the Potter books in this work, with a more mature narrative style and the frequent use of expletives. She also mounts a veiled attack on the publishing world where books laced with goriness and pornography sell more than works of content. The book is aptly named The Silkworm detailing the traumas and the agonies that writers have to undergo to deliver the good stuff (A silkworm is boiled in its cocoon to preserve the shell in its original form). Exciting though the premise is and the treatment of characters by the author, the book does feel a tad bit long, and you feel that the story could have been told in fewer pages.

Overall, the book is a decent read and with more books due in the series, this work hopefully will not suffer the fate of The Casual Vacancy.

Posted in book review, thriller, writing

Book Review: The Killers of the Flower Moon

I first came across David Grann’s work when I was searching something about the mysteries of Amazon as part of a research project. Finding his work being listed as relevant to the topic,  I read its summary in Wikipedia and decided to buy the novel titled The Lost City of Z (A review of the book can be found here on my blog: 1).

Being impressed by his style of writing and storytelling, I picked up his next book-Killers of the Flower Moon. I must admit that I was intrigued in part by the title-Flower Moon. I wondered what that meant, and its relation to being one of the first high profile cases handled by the FBI led to me to read it.

Set in the 1920s in central USA (what is now Oklahoma) during the Prohibition Era, the book’s protagonist is the Osage Indian tribe who have been living in central USA since centuries. The arrival of the white colonizers leads to their displacement when they are forced to relocate from an area in Kansas to their place in present day Oklahoma. All is peaceful and quiet, until the discovery of oil under the land of the Osages.

The discovery of oil meant that these Osages became the richest men in the world overnight because of the headright to the oil and consequently, one of the most persecuted men in the world. Members of a household began turning up dead. Some died because of slow poisoning, some of gunshot wounds. With more than 20 people dead from the community in a few months, the Osage leaders began asking the government and the law enforcement agencies for help. However, since they were Indians and considered savages, the government denied them help. But when more and more Indians began turning up dead, the pressure mounted on the government to conduct an investigation, which was handed over to the FBI. The subsequent FBI investigation and the catching of culprits forms the basis of the book.

Similar to The Lost City of Z, the author first begins with the history of the Osages-their formation, displacement and discovery of oil under their land. He then moves on to the murders, the FBI investigation and finally the author himself travels to the location to comment on the current situation of the place.

The book is an exciting read for anyone interested in historical fiction, in understanding the prosecution of minorities in the USA and how FBI solved the crime.