ABOUT THIS BOOK
A cellar door creaked open in the middle of the night, or a hand slipping quickly into a trenchcoat—the most compelling transactions are surely those we never see. Smuggling can conjure images of adventure and rebellion in popular culture—Han Solo knew all about it, as did Al Capone—but as Simon Harvey shows in this fascinating book, smuggling has had a profound effect on the geopolitics of the world. Shining a light onto seven centuries of dark history, he illuminates a world of intrigue and fortunes, hinged on outlaw desires and those who have been willing to fulfill them.
Harvey tells this story by focusing on the most coveted contrabands of their time. In the Age of Discovery, these were silk, spices, and silver. During the days of western empires, they were gold, opium, tea, and rubber. And in modern times it has been, of course, drugs. To the side of these major commodities, he looks at a wide array of things that have always been in smugglers’ trunks, from guns to art to—the most dangerous of all—ideas. Central to this story are the (not always) legitimate forces of the Dutch and British East India Companies, the luminaries of the Spanish Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Nazis, Soviet trophy brigades, and the CIA, all of whom have made smuggling, at one point or another, part of their modus operandi. Beneath this, Harvey traces out the smaller-time smugglers, the micro-economies of everyday goods, precious objects, and people, drawing the whole story together into a map of a subterranean world crisscrossed by smugglers’ paths.
All told, this is the story of the unrelenting drive of markets to subvert the law, of the invisible seams that have sewn the globe together.