In the 1990’s, Viktor Bout, an obscure former Russian military officer, became one of the greatest illicit arms dealers in history. Not just small arms and ammo, but explosives, rocket launchers, attack helicopters, and all manner of destruction were available to those with money, and with astronomical profits from blood diamonds to illicit drugs, dictators, revolutionaries, and terrorists had millions to spend.
What made Bout so effective was his access to the stockpiles of the recently defunct USSR and his incredible delivery network. He was quite simply the Amazon and UPS of arms procurement. Bout sold to anyone with money and in many conflicts sold weapons to both sides; in most cases he made no secret to his customers that he sold arms to their enemy. With the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, US forces came to rely on men like Bout to deliver much-needed supplies for reconstruction efforts; his shady dealings were known but overlooked.
In The Gun, the previous Cromulent Book of the Week, C.J. Chivers lays out the development of the AK-47 and why the state-run economy of the Soviet Union necessitated the sheer number of AK’s built, free from the restraints of supply and demand. Merchant of Death, continues that story, revealing the emergence of shady entrepreneurs, like Bout, in the aftermath of the Cold War, who provide the means of death, destruction, and instability in conflicts large and small across the globe. Look no further than the disaster unfolding in Yemen for proof.