Rebel Book Club x Zero Zero Zero | Narcos: The War on Drugs


March 2022: NARCOS
Rebel Book: #83
Book: Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano
Meetup: X+Y Whitechapel, Framework, Hop In
Fuel: The Uncommon Wines, Dash Water
Live Q+A: Cecilia González at our virtual event


A bit about our March theme at Rebel Book Club.

Before we begin, here’s a little intro to our March theme…

How do we end the war on drugs? It’s a question that has been on the lips of politicians, campaigners and communities for decades. We go round in circles playing out the same fight over and over again. The impact of the war on drugs can feel far away for those of us lucky enough not to be tangled up in it in our immediate locale, but we know deep down it’s all around us – in our local communities, our social circles, and in our economies.

A lot has been written about the impact of drugs and the war on drugs in nonfiction, so we wanted to explore a few different angles on offer. Here are the 3 books we chose for this month’s shortlist:

  1. Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar by Virginia Vallego
  2. Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear by Dr. Carl Hart
  3. Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano

Book one explores the story of Pablo Escobar’s lover ie. the experience of being in love with a cartel leader: “in this explosive tale of drugs, sex, wealth and violence, Vallejo describes the man she knew and loved“.

Book two is written by an American academic, Dr. Carl Hart, who puts forward: “a powerful argument that the greatest damage from drugs flows from their being illegal, and a hopeful reckoning with the possibility of their use as part of a responsible and happy life“.

Book three comes from the renowned nonfiction author, Roberto Saviano: “this searing exposé reveals how dirty money and the drug trade are at the heart of our lives, our economy, and our world.” It has also been turned into a TV series.

Our members voted to read Roberto Saviano’s Zero Zero Zero.


Live Audience Q+A with Cecilia González.

We were very lucky to be joined by an expert in the field of Narcos, Cecilia González, all the way from her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cecilia is a Mexican investigative journalist and correspondent. She is the author 3 books focused on drug traffic in Mexico and Argentina – Narco South (“Narcosur”), Narcos Running (“Narcofugas”) and Everything You Need to Know about Narco Trafficking. She has also participated in collective journalist projects to visit families of the war on drugs.

Cecilia won the Fopea Prize for the best book of investigative journalism and has worked on the production of various documentaries, including El Che on Netflix.

We had some difficulties with connection at the start of the conversation with Cecilia, so we’re going to jump into the clips part way through our chat with her. In this blog, you will see the English translation of Cecilia’s answers. However, we also want to make sure those who can understand Spanish can hear Cecilia’s answers in her own voice + language, so we will hyperlink the Spanish version as well underneath each clip. And a big thank you to our superstar translator, Sol!

Clip 1: What are some of the results of Cecilia’s work?

Click here for the Spanish language clip.

Clip 2: What, if anything, is working in the War on Drugs?

Click here for the Spanish language clip.

Clip 3: What part can we play as a community learning about the war on drugs?

Click here for the Spanish language clip.

Clip 4: Has Cecilia read Zero Zero Zero and what did she think of it?

Click here for the Spanish language clip.


Stepping into the eco-system of the global drugs trade

For our in-person events this month, we decided to run a workshop to explore our learnings from this month’s book. The book was a tough read at times, it describes violence in graphic detail but also very clearly demonstrates the global nature of the impact of the War on Drugs. As such, we felt it was important to really ground our learnings in the impact on our local communities.

What we learned from Zero Zero Zero was that even the most violent criminal has an original goal or purpose. It became clear this was often to feed their family, break out of poverty or create opportunities otherwise out of reach to them. Likewise, there are a multitude of reasons people use drugs.

With this in mind, we wanted to understand more about the mindset of each role in the drugs economy + explore the solutions being put forward by experts, but without trivialising or unintentionally glamourising the topic – as can often happen in big Netflix dramas or Hollywood movies.

To do so, we split up into groups of 5 + took on a specific role in the conversation: Gang leader, gang member, police, policymaker, or drug user. We tried to put forward both motivations + circumstances that drive each position. We then regrouped + gathered as our roles (ie. all gang leaders, all police, all policy etc.) to put together a series of demands + solutions for the future. We then shared these back with the group + debated their likely success. It was a really powerful exercise in stepping into another person’s shoes.

This month has certainly challenged many of us in our preconceptions about the war on drugs. It has given us the opportunity to develop a more rounded perspective on one of the most pressing + enduring issues in the world today. We now hope to take these insights into our respective activism, professional roles, and as we shape our personal political considerations in the future.

Here are 3 organisations working in East London to support those most affected by drug crime, or those most vulnerable to being recruited by gangs in the UK. Please follow + support their work:

  • SWITCHBACK: Switchback’s purpose is to enable young men to find a way out of the justice system and build a stable, rewarding life they can be proud of.
  • NEWARK: Based in Tower Hamlets, Newark develops the skills, capacities and capabilities of young people and adults to enable them to participate in society as independent, mature and responsible citizens. Their beneficiaries often live in an area with high rates of gangs, drugs, knife crime, youth violence and anti-social behaviour.
  • INSIDE SUCCESS: Inside Success launched in 2015 with the purpose of supporting 16-24-year-olds in jobs, training and education. They aim to tackle the issues faced by young people, including unemployment, social issues, teenage pregnancy, crime, mental health and more.

April 2022: Get Rich or Lie Trying

Our April 2022 read has already been decided by our members. We’ll be reading a new book by Symeon Brown called Get Rich or Lie Trying: Ambition + Deceit in the New Influencer Economy:

“Get Rich or Lie Trying asks if our digital rat race is costing us too much. Revealing a broken economy resembling a pyramid scheme, this incredible blend of reportage and analysis will captivate and horrify you in equal measure.”

Symeon is a reporter + journalist at Channel4 News. He was shortlisted for an Orwell Prize in 2019 + shortlisted at the 2018 British Journalism Awards. He’s written for range of publications inc. Vice, Guardian, Huff Post, CNN, New Statesman + The Voice.

Atlantic Books are an independent British publishing house founded in 2000. They have since developed a list that has a world-wide reputation for quality, originality and breadth, and includes fiction, history, politics, memoir and current affairs.

Our members’ meetups will be on Tuesday 26th April @ 7pm (BST). Members will be joining in person in London + Bristol and virtually around the world.

That’s all for now. Sign up to become a member to join the fun!


If you’re new here, welcome!

We are Rebel Book Club, a global nonfiction book club.

We’ve been reading together for 5+ years and we exist to accelerate your reading habits, connect you with like-minded thinkers + doers and take positive action in a changing world…

We have an event at the end of each month, where we hear from experts in a relevant field to the books we’re reading – which is how this blog post came about.

If you’d like to find out more, check out our websitefollow us on Instagram or email our Membership Manager at hello@rebelbookclub.co.uk.

We can’t wait to welcome you aboard!

Not Your Average Book Club.