The main argument in A Narco History, by Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace, is that the Mexican drug war was a creation of the governments of the United States and Mexico. Working sometimes at odds, sometimes in concert, both governments—beset by corruption—are united in the belief that prohibition requires punitive responses, regardless of unintended consequences. The book is based on the abundant journalism on the topic, which the authors combine with clear and often insightful political contextualization. The authors start with the disappearance of 43 students from the city of Iguala in 2014. The episode is “only the latest in a lengthy sequence of horrors” but advances an implicit premise of the book: the authors can only offer a version of the events—despite all the voices and evidence of the crime committed against the students—because there is still no satisfactory account of what happened, nor a clear official resolution regarding culpability. There are “many remaining mysteries,” as well as the possibility of a “horrible” “counter narrative” in which the army, rather than organized crime and corrupt municipal officials, is responsible. This sense of doubt is projected back onto the historical section at the center of the volume: there is much we don’t know about the past of the drug business and the war against it—just enough to weave a narrative that sidesteps the inevitable gaps and treats evidence of different kinds with a similar degree of confidence.

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