Graeme Wood

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India’s Railway King

Originally appeared in the American.

How did India’s Huey Long become its Jack Welch?

NEW DELHIIn his boyhood, long before Lalu Yadav became India’s most unlikely management guru, he sometimes strayed from his cows and scampered barefoot to the railroad tracks. Dodging crowds and porters, he made his way to the first-class cars and, for a few glorious moments, basked in the air conditioning that blasted from the open door. Then the police would spot him and shoo him away, into the moist trackside cowflap where he belonged.

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Filed under: American,

Naples Confidential

The American (online)

Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System
By Roberto Saviano (translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp., $25

On his Vespa outside Naples, Robert Saviano once blew a tire by riding over a splintered human thighbone. The setting of Gomorrah, his gripping new account of the city’s vast criminal business empire, is so unrelentingly brutal that this grisly inconvenience takes up just a couple sentences. And by comparison with the ends of other players in Naples’s mob drama during the last decade, the lonely roadside killing of the thighbone’s owner seems hardly grisly at all. If slow deaths by shooting, stabbing, gouging, poisoning, burning, strangling, garroting, choking, kneecapping, and slicing happen with anything like the frequency suggested in Saviano’s book, then every Neapolitan gangster should carry a suicide-pill hidden in a false tooth. There are fates worse than death, and many of their colleagues seem to have met them.

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A Bout of Moral Ambiguity

The American (online)

Review of Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun.

Two journalists, in their new book, profile a key figure in the global arms trade.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of two Soviet technological triumphs: The maiden flight of the Antonov-12 transport plane in March 1957, and Sputnik’s launch the following October. Sputnik burned up in the atmosphere three months after its launch, but Antonovs—in many cases now patched with duct-tape and scrap metal—are still flying today. As one of the workhorses of the Soviet fleet, the An-12 has carried untold tons of cargo to remote airstrips where a daintier plane would have crunched its landing gear or smashed a propeller. Its wide loading-deck and rear door make it a favorite for carrying cars, passengers, and irregular cargo. But its most notorious payloads have been guns. Read the rest of this entry »

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