In This Review

Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb
Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb
By Mike Davis
Verso, 2007, 192 pp

Mario Buda was an anarchist who blew up a wagon full of explosives at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, in New York City, in 1920. Forty people were killed and 200 injured. There was immediate panic and a declaration of national emergency -- a big impact for relatively little effort, even if capitalism survived. Davis is impressed by this disproportion of effect to effort. Car bombs are stealth weapons that are a cheap and operationally straightforward way of getting explosives to a target, and they make enough noise that they cannot be ignored. For these reasons, they are the ultimate in asymmetry. But if they empower the weak, they also tend to be indiscriminate -- so they particularly empower those who are not concerned about carnage. Davis has cataloged many car-bombing episodes, showing how they have been used by groups ranging from Hezbollah and the Vietcong to the Mafia, the Stern Gang, and even the CIA. With so many grim stories to tell in a brief book, the context of individual episodes is often sketchy, the underlying political analysis shallow, and the prognosis alarmist.