Most of what I know about Pablo Escobar I learned from the ESPN documentary series 30 for 30. The documentary, called The Two Escobars, is about the murder of Colombian soccer player Andrés Escobar after scoring an own goal that led to the elimination of Colombia during the 1994 World Cup. Pablo Escobar was killed a few months prior and the directors of the documentary believed that due to Pablo’s fanaticism towards soccer, his influence may have prevented Andrés death. It made Pablo seem bizarrely human to me so I read this book for two primary reasons: 1) I’ve always heard about how horrible Pablo was but I was only 9 or 10 when he died so it was not something I knew as a child and 2) I want to watch Narcos and thought this would get me up to speed. I wish I could add that I love Bowden’s work but alas, I’ve only watched Black Hawk Down, never read it.
Killing Pablo is very straight forward. It is about the hunt for Pablo Escobar and his eventual death at the hands of the Colombian military (or is it?!?!…it is…probably). The book discusses the background of Escobar but was a little too cursory for my liking. This book is about his demise, not his rise so I accept that but I generally prefer a slower burn. I will not do justice to the atrocities he committed but I am not attempting to downplay them either. That is just not what the book is about.
Pablo was born during La Violencia, a nightmarish time in which over 200k people were killed, and it certainly shaped him. He started his criminal career as a teenager and quickly graduated to more advanced and brutal offenses. Escobar rapidly became “Don Pablo”, the man as the world him. His connection with the people complicate his legacy and certainly skewed his own perspective of self. His reign ended when he was killed by a task force that was at least assisted by citizens of the United States. This book covers both the hunters and the hunted and what drove them.
It is a fast book to read and really helped me understand a lot about Colombia as a whole but specifically as a culture. The book effectively navigates between fact and myth. It delves into many of the conspiracy theories surrounding Escobar’s death such as the degree of U.S. involvement and connections between politicians and various cartels. Overall, it was a very good read and I recommend it to those who enjoy military history and military thrillers.