Andrew Feinstein's book on the global arms industry draws strong reviews


Last month, I wrote a piece about sometimes seedy intersection between the legal profession and global money laundering for the ABA Journal, and came away from the reporting feeling a little amazed at the ease with which dirty money can be cleaned up by unscrupulous professionals who appear to be just doing their job.

But a new book out last week, and heavily reviewed in the U.S. and in England, pulls back the veil on an even uglier world, and one in which politics, law, business and war mingle to do tremendous harm. Andrew Feinstein’s The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade is prompting hand-clapping in the Post, the Telegraph, Bloomberg Businessweek and elsewhere. And judging from the reviews it’s easy to see why. (Feinstein previews his book in the video above, made available by his publisher.)

In short, those reviews have made it a book I want to read immediately. And the reviews are of the kind that are perfect for the kind of work we plan to highlight on this Book Smarts blog, which is itself a placeholder, and later a complement, to the real work of Legal Book Smarts. That is, we’ll soon be publishing literary book reviews of our own, the result of work we’re undertaking to match the best reviewers with the best books on the law that we can find. 

The business of that, well, business is ongoing. And meanwhile, we’re highlighting works like Feinstein’s because it strikes us as an important book, and one that has already attracted thoughtful and illuminating reviews.

Our reviews will be different than these, as they will be longer and designed to be standalone statement not just about the books in question but also about the underlying conditions or themes that the author has tried to illuminate. We expect our reviews will be read for their own sake, and cant wait to expand the content of this blog to include the paid content that will be its raison d’être.

For now, though, let’s focus on the smart contributions of other reviewers, who have taken different approaches in sizing up Feinstein’s work.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Robert Baer, for instance, focuses on the impact corrupt arms deal have on the purchasers of the arms – usually governments – who end up with faulty armaments and dangerous military vulnerabilities that don’t show up on war plans.

That’s an interesting angle that is often lost in the hand-wringing over corruptions. The grafters themselves often are doing more than stealing their nation’s blind, they are imperiling its very existence.

The more compelling angle of the book deals, however, with the way the huge profits in war munitions translates to pressure toward “perpetual war,” as former Pentagon official Chuck Spinney writes over at’s Battleground defense policy blog. 

John Tirman, writing for the Washington Post, leads off with a frank admission: “The way weapons large and small flow from the United States, Britain and other producers to the world’s villains is ever astonishing.”

He continues:  

Feinstein “gives us a sweeping and troubling story of how this happens, who benefits, and what consequences follow.

It is troubling because we have been at it for so long — the United States has been easily the largest arms exporter in the post-Cold War era — and still can’t seem to learn the ABCs of the arms trade: (A) the weapons we produce and sell or give away very often fall into the hands of people who want to use them to shoot at us; (B) the networks of arms merchants are also attracted to other forms of illicit commerce, like nuclear materials, drugs and human trafficking; and (C) the purported benefits of sustaining the “defense industrial base” by exporting weapons are grossly exaggerated. Yet none of these sturdy facts deters policy makers of all political persuasions from pushing lethal technologies onto petty tyrants and intermittent allies in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and indeed just about everywhere else.

Take a look at the book and join me back here. Because we’re interested on this site in books that help illuminate the law and the men and women who breathe life into it, I’ll be looking especially for the way the book tells the stories of the investigators who have dug into the money trails and exposed the criminals that sell these weapons.