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The Shadow World: Backstabbing, ego and disregard

The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, by Andrew Feinstein, reviewed by Chris Browne
April 2012

Andrew Feinstein’s The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade has been a long time coming. Anyone with more than a casual acquaintance with the arms industry will be well aware of its arsenal of libel lawyers, and the alacrity with which they descend upon all but the most cast iron of assertions against it. It takes a brave publisher to put out a book such as Feinstein’s latest tome, and it is little surprise that there has not been a work of such scope and penetration since Anthony Sampson’s groundbreaking The Arms Bazaar, published in 1977.

The Shadow World is a work of delicacy and often horrific insight. For a book that paints such a depressing picture of both the breadth and depth of corruption in the arms trade – accounting for 40 per cent of all corruption in global trade – it would be wrong to call it an ‘enjoyable’ read. It is certainly captivating, however.

The reader is introduced to a number of key arms deals – such as the infamous ‘Al Yamamah’ deal in Saudi Arabia – over the course of the book. These are often accounts populated by familiar names, particularly when there are government ministers involved. However, it is the stories of characters less familiar that give The Shadow World its real edge over shorter, more polemical reportage.

Feinstein’s book is something of a narrative web, the life-stories of its dramatis personae overlapping and giving a human face to the corruption he exposes. The lid is lifted on a world of backstabbing, ego and cavalier disregard for human life.

The Shadow World comes with a raft of high-profile endorsements, and given the quality of the writing and the level of detail it is easy to see why. For peace activists around the world this is sure to become a cornerstone text, even if only for its statistics, rather than Feinstein’s somewhat gloomy prognosis. Highly recommended.


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