Why The Devil’s Highway by Luís Alberto Urrea Still Matters 15 Years Later

It has been 15 years since the release of The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luís Alberto Urrea, which is widely considered a modern classic. We are only about one-fifth of the way into the 21st century, and we can already see that very few works of nonfiction from the last 20 years have had such a lasting impact. Published in 2004 to great acclaim, named a “best book of the year” by dozens of publications, and short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, Urrea’s story of the deaths of 14 Mexicans attempting to cross into the United States is as important now as when it was published.


Urrea is a profoundly wonderful writer, as is also evidenced in his later books and novels, and to have him handle this subject in a way that leaves room for empathy for everyone involved is a blessing for readers. Born in Mexico himself to an American mother and a Mexican father, he knows more than most people what it means to feel the pull of both sides of the border. He cannot fault the people wanting to enter the United States, the land of the American dream, who are leaving Mexico, the country where his own father was murdered when Urrea was young. But neither does he condemn the border patrol agents, whose job it is to stop these people from entering, and who sometimes use their own money to erect lifesaving towers for people lost in the desert.

The Devil’s Highway is just as important today as it was 15 years ago because nothing about the events that Urrea describes has changed. People are still attempting to cross into the country and dying; the government is still unable to come up with a realistic solution with regards to border crossers, and the general public is still fed misinformation about immigration. A copy of The Devil’s Highway in the hands of high school students, government officials, and border patrol agents would go a long way to helping teach empathy for all involved. It takes an especially talented writer like Luís Alberto Urrea to be able to break down walls in the face of ones being built.


About Luís Alberto Urrea

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his landmark work of nonfiction The Devil’s Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea is also the bestselling author of the novels The House of Broken Angels, The Hummingbird’s DaughterInto the Beautiful North, and Queen of America, as well as the story collection The Water Museuma PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. He has won the Lannan Literary Award, an Edgar Award, and a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among many other honors. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, he lives outside of Chicago and teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago.


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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.