Cover Image: MS-13


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Member Reviews

3.5 Stars

The MS-13 has been gaining notoriety more and more over the years, so it’s not surprise this book hit shelves in 2020. If you’re looking for a book which gives you an intimate look inside MS-13, I suggest This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha; however, if you are looking for sociological insight into them, then this books delivers.

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This was a good intro to MS-13. I had previously only had a passing knowledge, but now I feel like I understand a lot more. The comprehensive history was a little laborious at times, but I am glad I took the time to read through those moments.

I had originally read it to possibly add to my high school library, but it is very graphic and more suited to adult collections.

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Steven Dudley did a great job writing this book. It was very informative and statistical. It also did a great job explaining how the formation of the gang began, the expansion. Dudley goes on to explain the deportation processes including under the Trump administration.
The MS-13 is a dangerous gang who use a variety of tactics to instill fear in those who dare to come across their paths, or if they feel in some way disrespected...even if it's their own members. Ms-13 has expanded to many parts of the world. It's really incredible to see the number rise year after year. The focuses on some of the lives of the gang members. How they have to live in fear everyday of possibly getting killed by their own members. A sad reality whenever you join a gang.
El Salvador is full of corruption, racism, violence, poverty, and immigration issues. It's no wonder many seek refuge in other countries, and turn to violence themselves. I can't imagine the level of anxiety the country has always been in.

I believe this book should be used in all Social Sciences classes. Especially those focused on Criminal Justice classes.
Huge thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Ms-13 a gang that is always in the new a gang always being accused of horrific acts terrifying neighborhoods.I was very interested in the genesis oof this gang how it grew the dynamics of the members.This was an interesting enlightening informative read .the fighting with so called enemies and within themselves,Very well written very interesting highly recommend.#netgalley #harlequinbooks

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A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Steven Dudley's MS-13: The Making of America's Most Notorious Gang comes when an educated voice is needed on the subject of the gang's impact on world violence and, equally importantly, political maneuvering. Dudley is abundantly qualified to write on the subject as the co-director of InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to studying organized crime. Dudley works with numerous investigators and contributors to offer a more complete and accurate view of how organized crime works and its impact on public policy.

MS-13 is specifically about the Mara Salvatrucha, the ruthless street gang that has spread across countries and continents. Dudley details the origins of MS-13 and its operations, both generally and through specific experiences of a few individuals. "These stories allow us to trace the history of the gang from its beginnings in Los Angeles to its export to El Salvador and other Central American nations, and back again." The sections of the book (origins, maturation, efforts to extricate) mirror life faced by members who are enveloped, become serious, then try to leave.

Dudley addresses the Trump administration's comparison of the gang to Al-Qaeda as a means to rid the U.S. of "criminal aliens." While MS-13 is a threat that trades on its reputation for brutal murders, it is also greatly misunderstood, its power erroneously likened to much more sophisticated groups. Dudley's reporting is unsurprisingly complex, with extraordinary sections on methodology and notes, bibiography and index following the main text. A deep dive written in plain prose backed by years of research, MS-13 is a remarkable resource for thorough understanding.

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I read about a quarter of this book before I put it down.

Then I tried again. This time I read half of it and I simply couldn't do it anymore.

It was very dry. I had a lot of trouble keeping up with who was who and what army was what army.

While I understand that the history is part of it, by the halfway point, I still didn't have an idea of the workings of the gang, the organization in the US, how it affects the US and why it is considered such a threat here. I'm sure that it came after the halfway point but I lost interest to to the point where I decided finding articles on it online would have been more interesting and quicker.

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Previous to this book, I had heard of MS-13s and had seen their depiction in movies and TV but I never realized how superficial my knowledge was. I think Steve Dudley’s take and background was so well written and knowledgeable. The US’s role in the formation and strength was probably most surprising to me. I can’t wait to watch for more of Dudley’s publications and studies. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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I chose this book because this topic has a very special place in my heart. Amongst everything that is going on, I thought it would be important to further educate myself on deep-rooted sociocultural issues, starting with my own roots. I am a Salvadoran woman and my father was born and raised in El Salvador. He moved to the United States on political asylum as a teenager. No, my father was not in the gang, but many Salvadorans are or have suffered at their hands.
I thought that this book was well-researched and did a great job of describing the stories of individuals who are deeply connected to the gang. I appreciated how it shows a timeline of the gang and how they came to be the notorious gang they are. Some aspects did read a bit like a textbook and kind of lost me, but I feel that overall the material was pertinent to the subject matter and I learned a lot about, not only the gang, but my own culture and history. I have gained an entirely new perspective of the gang and feel inspired to do further research for my own sake.
Keep in mind that if this is something that you want to pick up, there are a lot of triggers in this book. This gang is known for their violence and there are graphic accounts of murder, rape, and outright violence. This book is not for the faint of heart so please proceed with caution.

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Dudley’s investigative chronology of the South American gang known as The Mara Salvatrucha, or by their other monica MS-13. Mara means “gang” and Salvatrucha stands for Salvador. The number thirteen is for the M; the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. Although some claim that it is because “13” was included to honor the Mexican Mafia (the most influential prison gang in all of CA) which sought to broker peace between the gangs MS-13 and 18th for economic reasons. MS-13’s members are reported to exist in 33 States. A grand achievement considering their inauspicious beginnings in Los Angeles. It is claimed that their current numbers are in excess of three-quarters of a million members. Know primarily for their extreme violence and their primacy within the correctional institutions of the US; their origins were according to Dudley to be far less sinister. Dudley’s account of the tomato gangs (so called because they would throw tomatoes at each other) quickly descended into extortion, drug dealing and murder. Any reluctance to abandon their ’honor’ quickly evaporated as the promise of enormous wealth from drug sales supplanted it.

I have to admit to harboring conflicting feelings about the book. I felt very enthusiastic to receive a copy for review and couldn’t wait to begin reading it. Immediately I began questioning my wisdom. At first it appeared that the author was acting an apologist for the criminal activities of the central characters, Norman, and Alex Sanchez. Then later when Dudley seemed to repeated express sympathy for the victim-hood of the characters.

As the book progressed the tone changed and the author seemed to become more skeptical and less sympathetic as the murders, gang rapes, and violent assaults increased.

Dudley did manifest through his writing style the sense of unity and camaraderie shared by the informal social party group that MS-13 seemed to be. The gang was as much a social club than it was an organization like the Cosa Nostra.

I found the narratives constant transition between the United States and El Salvador left one feeling disorientated and confused. This combined with a plethora of minor players many of whom are known only by aliases only added to the scale of the confusion. There is a lack of structure and because of this there is an inability to keep track of characters, let alone empathize with them at any level. Ultimately, the breadth and scale were too board for easy navigation.

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MS-13: The Making of America's Most Notorious Gang by Steven Dudley is a heavily researched book about the history of the criminal gang known as MS-13. Dudley chronicles the lives of those within the gang and those with corollary ties to the gang, both by choice and involuntarily.

Dudley provides historical origins of the gang and describes how the gang grew from a group created to foster protection to members to that of a deadly gang unafraid to use extreme means of violence to achieve its goals.

Dudley provides information regarding the development and evolution of MS-13 to such an extent to exceed what is commonly known about the criminal gang as often divulged in the mainstream media. Dudley's narratives involving actual people and individual gang members are among the stronger points in the book.

MS-13 is recommended to those that enjoy historical and well-researched books involving other cultures and societal aspects.

This book was provided by Netgalley for the promise of a fair review.

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To start, thank you to the Publisher and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I was so really looking forward to reading this book. Who wouldn't want to read an in-depth history of one of the most violent street gangs in the world. But... I liked and disliked this book. I liked it as it was really informative and I learned a lot of things I never would have found out on my own but I found the book really difficult to follow sometimes. I liked meeting the new characters; Norman, Alex Sanchez etc. but the book jumped around so much that I lost track of who was who and where I was, El Salvador or America.
I also found that I was getting confused with all the different political factions, the FLMN, the guerillas, who was who and who was good or bad, even that changed frequently. I got mixed up with all the different MS-13 groups and all of their in-fighting.
I'm really glad I was given the opportunity to read this book, it opened my eyes to the horrific poverty, corruption, violence, prison system, immigration issues, and racism that was so prevalent for Salvadorans. One part that really stood out while reading is the unrelenting racism that Salvadorans experienced from other Latino populations. Instead of embracing one another they were singled out which drove them deeper into the gangs arms as well as poverty and the prison system. It was also mind blowing that there really was no monetary gain from being a part of MS-13 they were too disorganized and so much in-fighting that they couldn't get their act together well enough to benefit financially. So they just basically killed each other and other people and that's about that. So sad.
I definitely do recommend for other people to read this book as it's eye opening and we should all be aware of the hardships of other countries and their people.

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Stephen Dudley has written a superb read with MS-13. Well worth the time and a true page turner! An engrossing book

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This book reads like a fictional account. There are many characters and a LOT of "Evidence". YET, I had a hard time trying to keep all of the characters/aliases/real people separated. Further, this is a non fiction work, yet no sources were cited, no bibliography at the end.
I liked the beginning, but I felt that the author moved from the United States to El Salvador too much for me to coherently follow along.
I think that there is a VERY important work here, yet its buried with too much nonsense....too many little characters, too many aliases, too much skipping around the world.

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An account of one of the most bloodiest, violent gangs in America.

This was an incredibly fascinating view into one of the most violent gangs in America. It is a look into why gangs are formed and the exploitation that results both in and outside the gang.

I found Dudley's writing to be both clear and informative.

4 stars.

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2.5 stars
I was interested in reading this one after I finished Narconomics by Tom Wainwright, hoping to learn more about the MS-13 who were featured prominently in his book. Unfortunately, this just wasn't really what I was looking for. It was certainly well-researched, but it just felt poorly organized. At the beginning of the book were are introduced to "Norman," and it seems like we are going to be primarily following his experience. But then we get a large section focused on El Savadorian history complete with wayyyy too many acronyms, and then we're introduced to about five other people who occasionally pop back in with their own sections.
I appreciated the wide range of perspectives shown, but they were just too hard to keep track of. I almost wish each of their stories had been told in separate chunks at once, instead of all slowly mixed in together.
I just feel like this book was perhaps trying to do too much and, as a result, achieved no clear purpose. The end began to pick up a little bit since, by then, I had mostly gotten a grasp for each of the people we follow, but then it concluded so abruptly that I was just left a little confused.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for provided me a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A good, overall view into the world of MS-13. The author does a good job of explaining the gang, it’s formation, and the United State’s unwitting complicity in the expansion of the gang. Our policy of deportation of gang members back to El Salvador leads to the deported members “training “ new members there. Or in forcing the citizens from El Salvador to “sanctuary “ in the United States. Damned if I know what the solution is, it’s a real Catch-22.
The author does an excellent job of humanizing various members of the gang, and letting you see the world through their eyes.

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This book contains violent scenes, both physical and sexual, and should not be read by individuals who might find themselves triggered by vivid descriptions of violence and murder.
This book is NOT for the Faint of Heart. Please exercise caution when reading and if at any time you feel you need to stop reading, I encourage you to put this book down and walk away.

MS-13 IS A CRIMINAL GANG. They are well known for their violence and brutality. 

Journalist and author Steven Dudley has spent years reporting on gangs, government and violence in Central America. In writing MS-13: The Making of America's Most Notorious Gang, he has written a comprehensive account as to how MS-13 was formed and how that gang spread from Central America to the United States.

What this book achieved for me was that it dispelled the notion that MS-13 is a strictly structured unit and that there is one singular person at the top and that all other members were co-ordinated  and part of a whole. This is simply not true. Each clique of MS-13 essentially acts on its own and sometimes cliques will war with other MS-13 cliques.

What does seem true of almost every MS-13 gang member, who spoke to the Author, is that that person grew up surrounded by violence and chaos, and had joined the gang (at least initially) as a way to protect themselves from outside forces.

President Donald Trump seems woefully misinformed about this gang and in fact gives them more credit than they deserve. By labelling MS-13 as Public Enemy Number One, all the President has done is that he has given potential gang recruits an additional reason for joining the gang. Many (even most) of the current MS-13 gang members living in the United States have fled their war-torn homelands to seek a better way of life. The problem is that when they arrive in the States, they realize that their lives are not much better than the lives they had fled.

MS:13 has been added to the list of Most Dangerous Gang Organizations in the United States.

I believe that anyone who wants to work with gang members on finding a new way of life should view this book as required reading. It is impossible to effect change if the history and dynamics of life as part of an MS-13 mara are not understood. 

I rate this book as 4 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It is a fascinating read, but I also need to warn potential readers that the violence and brutality detailed in this book may be triggering for some people.

*** Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book. ***

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This was a very informative read and definitely a deep glance into what the gang is actually like and how it came into existence out of necessity for belonging.

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