Book Review: ‘God’s Middle Finger’ by Richard Grant

'God's Middle Finger' by Richard Grant

God’s Middle Finger
Author: Richard Grant
Genre: Travel Narrative
Original Release: March 4, 2008

Although I have only been averaging one (usually small) trip a year, I am a traveler at heart. I love visiting new areas, learning about their culture and soaking up as many sights as I can see. Unfortunately, travel is expensive, and I have nowhere near the resources to go abroad as often as I would like. That’s where my addiction to travel narratives comes in. I am a huge sucker for a good travel book so I can romanticize about places unseen and live vicariously through the authors. It’s also fun to read about places that would not be at the top of my must-visit list, especially those that are generally considered dangerous for American tourists (or anyone in general).

God’s Middle Finger is one such travel narrative that caught my eye while perusing Portland, Oregon’s legendary Powell’s Books. Author Richard Grant, a thrill-seeking Englishman, decided he wanted to visit the infamously lawless land of the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. Widely considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world, the Sierra Madre is almost entirely controlled by narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). Law enforcement is sporadic, and the majority of officers are corrupt. It’s basically anything goes, and murder, rape and kidnapping are all common occurrences.

Map of the Sierra Madre

Map of the Sierra Madre

Generally it’s a bad idea to visit the area, but Grant was lured by his sense of adventure as well as his genuine interest in the way of life of its civilians. His initial plan was to follow the nearly 900 mile long range from beginning to end, all while finding locals to act as guides. The beginning of his journey is essentially a game of “pass the gringo”, as he is transferred from one local to another, working his way through the mountains. He is frequently told not to travel alone, but he grows cocky the farther he goes, and eventually rides solo.

Not smart. The book’s prologue directly tells us what’s to come — it opens with Grant being hunted in the middle of the night by two drunk men. Naturally, this happened while traveling alone, unarmed, and in the dark. It’s a hell of a way to open a book, and I was hooked immediately after that point.

It takes a long time for the book to come back to the prologue, and when it does, it ends rather abruptly, but the journey to that point is a very fun read. Grant encounters a number of ridiculous people on the way, most of whom are either heavily armed and/or drunk. He attends religious ceremonies that feature natives getting piss drunk and beating the hell out of each other. He goes treasure hunting with a friendly Mormon, snorts cocaine with the local police, binge drinks with forceful drug lords, and even attempts to teach English at one of the rare local elementary schools. And, of course, he gets hunted in the wild.

As you would guess, there is a lot of craziness contained in this book, and it makes for a very quick read. Grant also generously shares some fascinating history lessons that provide some insight into the Sierra Madre’s culture. It’s hard to imagine that such a ruthless land exists mere minutes from the U.S. border, and it’s also shocking to hear just how much the Mexican economy relies on its drug trafficking (most of which is purchased here). Fans of adventure, travel and/or history should look up God’s Middle Finger — you won’t be disappointed.


As a companion piece to this novel, tomorrow I will be writing about the 1948 classic film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘God’s Middle Finger’ by Richard Grant

  1. ruth says:

    Hey Eric, I love traveling too but I wish I had all the money in the world so I could do that more! Wow, this movie sounds like a cautionary tale about knowing where you’re going and traveling wisely. Richard Grant sounds familiar, what other films has he done?

    • Eric says:

      Cheers Ruth, but this is actually a book, not a movie (though it would make for a good one!). I decided to spice it up today since it has been months since I wrote a book review. πŸ™‚

      Grant does have a documentary to his name, but I have yet to check it out. It’s called American Nomads and it’s available for free on his website:

      • ruth says:

        Oh geez! I guess I should’ve figured that out since you have the book cover on this post! Sorry, but that’s cool that you’re reviewing all kinds of things here Eric, games, books, movies, the whole shebang πŸ˜€

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Sounds like a fascinating book, Eric. You might be interesting in another Englishman’s look at the underbelly of what’s going on in Mexico: ‘El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency’ by Ioan Grillo. I attended a book panel at the recent L.A. Times Festival of Books where the subject was discussed with him and other authors. It was mind boggling. Another novel I’d also recommend, though 95% of it is based on actual fact, is Don Winslow’s opus on the Drug War, ‘The Power of the Dog’ (I covered it here last June). Fine book review, my friend.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, Michael, for the kind words and great recommendations. I’m definitely interested in reading more about Mexico, so I’ll keep an eye out for those books.

  3. Chris says:

    Sierra Madre sounds like a dangerous place, that is fun to read about, but maybe too risky visiting!

    I remember enjoying the documentary on the dvd of the movie. The author of the book B. Traven was a real mysterious fellow ( :
    Discovering Treasure: The Story of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (2003)

    • Eric says:

      I didn’t know about that documentary — I’ll have to look it up. I read a little bit about B. Traven while researching the film, and it’s crazy how no one knew his real identity. Pretty cool if you ask me πŸ˜€

  4. gotounknown says:

    I cannot talk for all of Sierra Madre, but I know some parts are dangerous, but also super beautiful! I have visited the large city of Monterrey that lies along Sierra Madre, and it is a mix of richness, violent areas and amazing scenery and nature.

    I would suggest Monterrey if you want to visit the area, since it is a big city, you can find your way around unsafe areas plus you’ll find amazing green and lush mountain ranges surrounding the city. Well worth a visit!

    • Eric says:

      That’s awesome that you were able to visit Monterrey. It sounds like a really cool place to check out. I know after reading this book I am infinitely more interested in visiting more of Mexico, even with its inherent violent areas.

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