Book Review: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Title: The Shock Doctrine

Author: Naomi Klein

Genre: Nonfiction

Subgenre: Politics/Economics


In her groundbreaking reporting, Naomi Klein introduced the term “disaster capitalism.” Whether covering Baghdad after the U.S. occupation, Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami, or New Orleans post-Katrina, she witnessed something remarkably similar. People still reeling from catastrophe were being hit again, this time with economic “shock treatment,” losing their land and homes to rapid-fire corporate makeovers.

The Shock Doctrine retells the story of the most dominant ideology of our time, Milton Friedman’s free market economic revolution. In contrast to the popular myth of this movement’s peaceful global victory, Klein shows how it has exploited moments of shock and extreme violence in order to implement its economic policies in so many parts of the world from Latin America and Eastern Europe to South Africa, Russia, and Iraq.

At the core of disaster capitalism is the use of cataclysmic events to advance radical privatization combined with the privatization of the disaster response itself. Klein argues that by capitalizing on crises, created by nature or war, the disaster capitalism complex now exists as a booming new economy, and is the violent culmination of a radical economic project that has been incubating for fifty years.

My Review

Some nonfiction books infuriate you because they’re terribly written or poorly researched. Some nonfiction books infuriate you because they’re well-written and well-researched—and because the topics they detail are so well drawn that you can’t help but feel genuine anger over the injustice of the situations described.

The Shock Doctrine falls into the latter category.

Starting with the rash of military coups in South America in the 70s and continuing all the way up to the Iraq war in the early 2000s, The Shock Doctrine describes in stark and horrifying detail the manner in which unbridled capitalist enterprise has repeatedly taken advantage of political unrest and disaster situations in order to expand multinational businesses and plunder the natural resources of numerous nations for profit—and almost entirely at the expense of average people just trying to live average lives.

The book describes in depth the ways in which big business interests have repeatedly obstructed or subverted democracy in order to push extreme capitalist agendas onto unwilling people, with terrifying and tragic results, including:

1) mass abductions, disappearances, torture, imprisonment, and straight-up murder,
2) mass increases in poverty and income inequality,
3) loss of public ownership over important national resources through privatization initiatives, and
4) the development of entire industries based around funneling public funds into private war machines and government contractors painted as “security and disaster relief” organizations.

Part history book, part economic criticism, and part political diatribe, The Shock Doctrine describes plainly the myriad injustices that have been visited upon the innocent populations of multiple countries in the preceding decades in the names of “freedom” and “free trade.” So if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like reading books that make you angry, this is perhaps not the book for you.

On the other hand, if you have a keen interest in learning why so many countries in South America (and elsewhere) are struggling today with such extreme income inequality and other sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues, then you’ll definitely want to give this one a read.

This book is absolutely infuriating—and extremely important.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.