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Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb

The brilliant and disturbing 100-year history of the “poor man’s air force,” the ubiquitous weapon of urban mass destruction
On a September day in 1920, an angry Italian anarchist named Mario Buda exploded a horse-drawn wagon filled with dynamite and iron scrap near New York’s Wall Street, killing 40 people. Since Buda’s prototype the car bomb has evolved into a “poor man’s air force,” a generic weapon of mass destruction that now craters cities from Bombay to Oklahoma City.

In this provocative history, Mike Davis traces the its worldwide use and development, in the process exposing the role of state intelligence agencies—particularly those of the United States, Israel, India, and Pakistan—in globalizing urban terrorist techniques. Davis argues that it is the incessant impact of car bombs, rather than the more apocalyptic threats of nuclear or bio-terrorism, that is changing cities and urban lifestyles, as privileged centers of power increasingly surround themselves with “rings of steel” against a weapon that nevertheless seems impossible to defeat.

Reviews

  • “A brilliant antidote to official history, allowing us to understand how the weak have fought back, ingloriously, against the onslaught of the strong.”
  • “Mike Davis follows the evolution of the car bomb from the Balkans to Palestine, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Lebanon and, of course, Iraq.”
  • “Davis, long-time chronicler of apocalyptic terror, has done it again: he has made me scared … The brilliance of Davis’s story is undeniable.”
  • “Davis creates a fascinating genealogy that raises chilling questions about the future of terrorism.”
  • “Brilliantly terse … Davis writes with icily suppressed fury.”
  • “Brilliant … Buda’s Wagon escorts us with a savage sarcasm from the first-known instance of the art … to present-day Gaza and Iraq.”
  • “A short and fascinating history of the car bomb.”
  • “A serious, disturbing and pessimistic book that resonates with widespread contemporary terrors … An excellent analysis of the arrogant miscalculations, cruelties and sometimes wanton stupidity of various governing elites.”
  • Buda’s Wagon is an elegant proof that terrorism, however it is earned out, is ultimately a tactic rather than an ideology.”
  • “Riveting, a whirlwind survey of the car bomb’s historical hot spots.”
  • “Brings home in unsparing terms the bloody past and the even bloodier future of the car bomb.”
  • “Davis’ book moves quickly, painting a bone-chilling portrait of just how easy it has become to attain the information needed to build a car bomb and deploy it.”
  • “Products like iPods, brands like Coca-Cola and pop stars like Michael Jackson aren’t the only currency of globalization. As Mike Davis points out in this swift, grimly readable little book, weapons are too.”
  • Buda’s Wagon reveals a grave and fundamental misperception by the administrators of global policy, who fail to see the car bomb for what it is: a symptom of our own excesses.”
  • “Entrancing.”
  • “Fascinating.”

Blog

  • The Militarization of Everything: A Reading List

     

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  • Buda’s Wagon: The Gates of Hell

    Mike Davis writing on history and the city has been celebrated across the world. To mark the significance of his work, we're re-releasing his classic works in these beautiful new editions and we have 40% off all his writing until Jan 22.

    Here we present an extract from Buda’s Wagon, Davis' brilliant and disturbing 100-year history of the “poor man’s air force,” the ubiquitous weapon of urban mass destruction

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  • Late Victorian Holocausts: The Origins of the Third World

    Mike Davis writing on history and the city has been celebrated across the world. To mark the significance of his work, we're re-releasing his classic works in these beautiful new editions and we have 40% off all his writing until Jan 22.

    Here we present an extract from 
    Late Victorian Holocausts, Davis' magisterial melding of global ecological and political history, disclosing the nineteenth-century roots of underdevelopment in what became the Third World.

    What historians ... have so often dismissed as “climatic accidents” turn out to be not so accidental after all. Although its syncopations are complex and quasi-periodic, ENSO [El Niño-Southern Oscillation] has a coherent spatial and temporal logic. And, contrary to Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s famous (Eurocentric?) conclusion in Times of Feast, Times of Famine that climate change is a “slight, perhaps negligible” shaper of human affairs, ENSO is an episodically potent force in the history of tropical humanity. If, as Raymond Williams once observed, “Nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history,” we are now learning that the inverse is equally true: there is an extraordinary amount of hitherto unnoticed environmental instability in modern history. The power of ENSO events indeed seems so overwhelming in some instances that it is tempting to assert that great famines, like those of the 1870s and 1890s (or, more recently, the Sahelian disaster of the 1970s), were “caused” by El Niño, or by El Niño acting upon traditional agrarian misery. This interpretation, of course, inadvertently echoes the official line of the British in Victorian India as recapitulated in every famine commission report and viceregal allocution: millions were killed by extreme weather, not imperialism. Was this true?

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