Unmasking the Shadows of Colombia: Exploring the Cartels Through Three Captivating Books

As a writer specializing in travel and adventure, I am naturally curious about and drawn to stories of mystery, peril, and the indomitable will of the human spirit. The tale of the drug cartels in Colombia’s history is one that has interested me. This South American country, famous for its natural beauty and cultural diversity, has also played host to an intriguing tale of political intrigue and economic prosperity. In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Colombia, I have read “The Making of Modern Colombia” by David Bushnell, “King of Cocaine” by Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen, and “At the Devil’s Table” by William C. Rempel. Each book offers a compelling perspective on this dark chapter in Colombia’s history. Come with me as I investigate the tumultuous background of Colombia’s drug cartels and learn why this period in time is so important.

David Bushnell’s, “The Making of Modern Colombia”

Researching Colombia’s past is essential for comprehending the development of its drug cartels. David Bushnell’s extensive research gives a full picture of Colombia’s development into a modern state and the myriad reasons that led to the rise of drug cartels. This book does not only focus on the cartels, but it also provides the groundwork for understanding the social and political climate that fostered the growth of these criminal enterprises.

From the banana strikes of the early 20th century to the La Violencia period of the mid-20th century, which paved the way for the rise of the cartels, Bushnell’s work gives a vivid picture of Colombia’s historical conflicts. He shows how the cartels grew ingrained in Colombian society and politics by analyzing the interplay between these factors. “The Making of Modern Colombia” is a must-read for history buffs since it lays out the complex chain of events that gave rise to the cartels in Colombia.

Authors Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen, “King of Cocaine”

The focus of “King of Cocaine” is on Pablo Escobar, a legendary figure in the Colombian cocaine trade. An exciting ride through the lives and times of the man who came to personify the cocaine trade, as told by Gugliotta and Leen. This book delves deeper than the headlines to reveal the true story of Escobar’s rise and fall from power.

The authors base their portrait of Escobar, a brutal criminal and charismatic leader, on extensive research and interviews. An interesting look into the life of a man who is usually regarded as a one-dimensional villain, “King of Cocaine” is a compelling biography. From his charitable works to harsh tactics, his complexity as a person and historical figure in Colombia is revealed. This book provides a compelling look into Escobar’s life for anyone interested in the dynamics of power and the ambiguity between heroes and villains.

William C. Rempel’s, “At the Devil’s Table”

This is an intimate look at the life of Jorge Salcedo, a significant member of the Cali Cartel and one of Escobar’s competitors. Like a page-turning thriller, this true account follows Salcedo as he risks his life as a DEA informant in an effort to bring down the cartel from the inside.

Rempel’s story deftly combines espionage, suspense, and ethical quandaries. From Salcedo’s point of view, we learn about the cartels’ inner workings, plans, and the tremendous pressure exerted on individuals who challenge them. When it comes to Colombia’s drug cartels, “At the Devil’s Table” provides a fresh perspective, illuminating the underground wars that have been fought to bring these criminal empires to justice.


During an effort to destroy illicit crops in Colombia, a police officer from that country keeps a watch close to coca plants.  – AFP via Getty Images, Juan Barreto

These works offer interesting perspectives on the history of drug trafficking in Colombia. In broad strokes, “The Making of Modern Colombia” explains how the country came to be, laying the groundwork for the subsequent growth of the cartels. While “At the Devil’s Table” provides an insider’s view of the cartels, “King of Cocaine” focuses on Pablo Escobar and his life.

These three novels have given me a deeper appreciation of Colombia’s history and its ongoing struggle against the shadows cast by its drug cartels as I prepare to immerse myself in the country’s rich culture, different landscapes, and complex history. History’s appeal comes from its aesthetic value and ability to illuminate the shadowy parts of the human experience. The conflict between the government and the drug cartels in Colombia is a fascinating narrative that everyone interested in history or adventure should explore. A nation’s hardships, perseverance, and unyielding quest for a brighter future in the shadows of its past are all explored in these works.  

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