exercises in compound storytelling

Monday, September 22, 2008

Buda's Wagon

After a busy week last week I got back to reading Mike Davis's book Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb this weekend. I'm about half-done; this is pretty unpleasant reading, mostly because of the body counts, and a little because of Davis's bizarre point of view.

So far he's traced the history of the car bomb from a horse cart full of dynamite in 1920 up through the use of plastique by Basque separatists. Along the way he's covered the use of bike bombs in Saigon, a couple of chapters on fertilizer-and-heating-oil bombs (e.g. Oklahoma City), and more detailed discussion of the bombing of the "Beruit Hilton" than I'd read anywhere else. There's a recurring theme of the use of explosives stolen from mines, and of course plastique.

Davis is more interested in the political history of car bombs, so he doesn't really deal with the question of what constitutes a car bomb, how it differs from a letter bomb, what technical advances made it possible in the first place, differences between cars as bombs themselves and bombs as sources of shrapnel, etc. Davis seems to be more interested in placing blame, typically at the feet of the late CIA Director William Casey.

All told it makes for pretty grim reading. Honestly I get the impression that car bombs are an unintended byproduct of industrialization and rising living standards, and I hope Davis will eventually take time out from body counts to talk about technical root causes of car bombs rather than proximate political causes.

No analysis from me yet; most of what Davis has to say is data, and I wonder if this is a book that makes more sense within his whole corpus, or if it fits better other books talking about the prosecution of a modern war.

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