Books by Laufer

Peter Laufer is the author of several well-reviewed books dealing with critical social issues. In addition, he has taken a relatively light-hearted look at mobile telephones, and has written a children’s book about guitar making in Mexico.

Laufer’s latest book is Up Against the Wall: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border (Anthem Press).

I love this book. Up Against the Wall is an extraordinary contribution to the Mexican immigration debate. It’s a journey to a reality that we look at every day in this country but do not see. The United States has a historic opportunity to solve this problem now, avoiding worse consequences in the future.
– Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas

This is great reporting on a complex, delicate and controversial subject. Peter Laufer knows the American side of the border and the issue, but understands the Mexican one as well. It is a case well made for a different approach to a long-standing matter of dispute between the two countries. In the current debate about immigration in the United States, this is well worth reading.”
– Jorge G. Castañeda, former foreign minister of Mexico, professor of Latin American and Caribbean studies, New York University

Donald Trump (and all of us) must read this book to understand what walls really do for us and to us. Peter Laufer s investigation of barriers is so important at a time when we urgently need unity.

–Terry Phillips, former CBS News foreign correspondent

Peter Laufer has written a clear and compelling book, for a general audience, that develops the case for opening the Mexican-American border. The case he makes elegantly weaves his deep understanding of border issues into an eloquent narrative that is based on his journeys along the Mexican-American border. Laufer embellishes the case with his strong command of history and social science on border issues. For those asking for the best book available on why the Mexican-American border should be open, Peter Laufers Up Against the Wall is their answer.
— David Frank, professor of rhetoric, University of Oregon

This book is a highly compelling and thoughtful examination of one of the most critical issues of public importance in the 21st century. Moreover, it is a topic of enduring importance that transcends both time and place. The book is very well researched and written. The storytelling is highly engaging and immersive. It takes the reader on a powerful journey into the issue of borders and border walls and immigration, advancing understanding of the complex dynamics of the U.S. and Mexico border.” – John Pavlik, professor of journalism and media, Rutgers University

I have spent my career debating borders, 100 percent of it on the opposite side of Peter Laufer s premise in Up Against the Wall. But whether as an inspiration for those who agree or a delightful intellectual exercise for those who don’t, this book is time very well spent. – Mark Davis, talk show host, Salem Media Group

Fearlessly, Peter Laufer steps into the middle of the debate and states his case making points that will leave people shaking their heads. A primary text.

–  Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Across the Wire and The Devil’s Highway, professor, University of Illinois-Chicago

Peter Laufer offers a vivid chronicle of his experiences and encounters spanning many years as a veteran journalist of the US-Mexico borderlands. The stories that Laufer shares provide a resounding testament to the colossal irrationality and brutality of the border.

– Nicholas De Genova, professor, comparative cultural studies, University of Houston


Peter Laufer edited the student-written book Classroom 15: How the Hoover FBI Censored the Dreams of Innocent Oregon Fourth Graders. The geniuses of the book and the research, reporting, editing and writing processes are detailed in this New York Times article about the book.


Laufer’s study of turtles and the human animals who love or abuse them

was published in 2018 by St. Martin’s Press.

In the vein of Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Kolbert comes a fascinating exploration into the world of turtles across the globe; Laufer charts the lore, love, and peril to a beloved species.

Dreaming in Turtle is a compelling story of a stalwart animal prized from prehistory through to today―an animal threatened by human greed, pragmatism, and rationalization. It stars turtles and shady and heroic human characters both, in settings ranging from luxury redoubts to degraded habitats, during a time when the confluence of easy global trade, limited supply, and inexhaustible demand has accelerated the stress on species. The growth of the middle class in high-population regions like China, where the turtle is particularly valued, feeds this perfect storm into which the turtle finds itself lashed. This is a tale not just of endangered turtles but also one of overall human failings, frailties, and vulnerabilities―all punctuated by optimistic hope for change fueled by dedicated turtle champions.

Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Learn the Truth behind Food Labeling (2014)
Laufer wrote an exposé of the sour side of the “organic” food industry in his book Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Learn the Truth behind Food Labeling. His research took him across four continents as he tracked foodstuffs from his local grocery store back to their (supposedly organic) sources.

The eye-catching dust jacket of Laufer’s book Organic:

The Elusive State of Jefferson (2013)

Peter Laufer’s journey through The Elusive State of Jefferson interrogates the publicity machine that was honed in Oregon by Port Orford’s mayor Gilbert Gable (a public relations expert from back East) and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1941 Jefferson dispatches).  Delaplane’s front page news reports from the seceding “state” were fancy-filled with his imaginative prose, a welcome relief for readers weary of war talk.  Every few years since then a creative manipulator gins up the Jefferson story knowing full well, one would hope, that the 38 million people in the rest of California will never allow the handful up in Jefferson to depart with their precious water and pristine wilderness playground.

No Animals Were Harmed (2011)

Detail from another fine cover design by Georgiana Goodwin.

Peter Laufer’s third book in a trilogy that explores the way we humans interact with animals. The attack of a trainer at Sea World by a killer whale in February 2010 is the catalyst for No Animals Were Harmed, Laufer’s examination of the controversial role animals have played in the human arenas of entertainment and sports.

From the Romans throwing Christians to lions to cock-fighting in present-day California, from abusive Mexican circuses to the thrills of a Hungarian counterpart, from dog training to shooting strays in the Baghdad streets, Laufer looks at the ways people have used animals for their pleasure, and when use becomes abuse.  The reader travels with Laufer as he encounters fascinating people and places, and as he ponders the ethical questions that arise from his quest. Kirkus loves No Animals Were Harmed; check out their review.


The blur of a cockfight in Puerto Rico.

The Swan Sanctuary is in Staines, along the Thames just outside of London.  Staines is the birthplace of linoleum.

“Roll out the lino,” reads the poem in the city square, “from Staines to the world.”

No Animals Were Harmed profiles the extremes of the animal rights debates, from jailhouse interviews to ringside circus views.

Walter Bond’s mugshot.

Forbidden Creatures

On the heels of his acclaimed The Dangerous World of Butterflies, Peter Laufer chronicled his worldwide quest to penetrate the underworld of international animal smuggling. In Forbidden Creatures, Laufer exposes the network of hunters, traders, breeders, and customers who constitute this nefarious business—which, estimated at $10 to $20 billion annually, competes with illegal drug and weapons trafficking in the money it earns criminals.

Laufer asks: What is being smuggled, from where and why? What is being done to stop the illegal trading and irresponsible breeding? Taking readers to exotic and often lawless locales, Laufer introduces brazen and dangerous traders and wealthy customers whose greed and mindless self-interest perpetuate what is now a crisis of survival for a growing number of wild species.

Woven throughout with riveting stories from law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors, Forbidden Creatures is a compelling, first-person narrative written in Laufer’s hallmark conversational, entertaining style.

About Forbidden Creatures, National Geographic’s Mark Bauman says, “This book is a wild romp through backyards and bedrooms full of exotic—sometimes dangerous—creatures. And it is an exploration of the human psyche: What drives some people to become outlaws just to satisfy their desire to subjugate nature’s other beasts? Laufer has hit another home run.”

Watch Peter Laufer talk about Forbidden Creatures on CSPAN’s “Book TV” Program.

Listen to Laufer talk about the book on KQED with host Michael Krasny.


Note the butterfly on the lapel.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies

War weary after writing a book about Iraq, Peter Laufer joked before an audience that his next book would be about butterflies. The result: an invitation to a butterfly preserve in Nicaragua. There he stumbled into a theater of intrigue full of strange and nefarious characters—all in pursuit of one of nature’s most delicate creatures.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies chronicles Laufer’s unexpected discoveries in the butterfly industry and underground. Readers will learn everything there is to know about the beauty and magic of butterflies. But Laufer’s narrative takes unpredictable turns into the high-stakes realms of organized crime, ecological devastation, species depletion, natural history museum integrity, and chaos theory. Set in locales throughout the Americas and beyond, this fascinating book takes us into a behind-the-scenes world sure to alter our view the next time we delight in the colorful fluttering of butterflies in our yards.

The butterfly lunch.

To learn more about The Dangerous World of Butterflies, please see the reviews and synopsis on  And watch Peter Laufer talk about the book on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and on CSPAN’s Book TV.

Laufer talks butterflies on CSPAN (note the lapel pin).

Check out the Italian language edition, La Battaglia delle Farfalle, published in Milan by the Sironi Editore imprint Galápagos.

¡Calexico! True lives of the borderlands


The destination.

The style of Calexico is that of an informed experiential news gathering travelogue.

The lunch.

Laufer makes his way from San Diego on the Pacific along the Mexican border to Winterhaven in the desert at the Arizona line.

The virgin.

The lush scenes of the borderlands punctuate the text. Laufer approaches the assignment with the caustic and penetrating eyes and ears of a seasoned, prize-winning journalist combined with the love and concern of a California native.

The beer.

His observations mix with intimate interviews of the people immediately affected by the border: those who live and work on the line.

The border patrol officer.

A narrative of the fluidity of life along the border, Calexico: True Lives of the Borderlands is a celebration of cultures, languages and people.

The waitress.

The work (published in 2011 by the University of Arizona Press) is a synthesis of the nationalities and loyalties that define the border and the new century, and the contemporary political reality told through the people and places of the border region.

The poet.

The work contextualizes the region as emblematic of the immigration crises facing California and the nation even as it spotlights the little-known unique individuality of the Borderlands.

A companion radio series to Calexico is supported by a production grant from the California Council for the Humanities as part of its California Stories initiative, described by the Council as “designed to connect Californians and foster understanding by uncovering personal and community stories that tell the story of today’s California.” Co-anchored by Markos Kounalakis and produced by sound designer Jim McKee, episodes of the series have been broadcast on KALW and KQED in San Francisco and KOWS in Sonoma County. The radio series is available here from PRX.

Hope Is a Tattered Flag: Voices of Reason and Change for the Post-Bush Era

Laufer co-authored this book with his friend and colleague Markos Kounalakis. Laufer and Kounalakis hosted the nationally syndicated radio program “Washington Monthly on the Radio” together (the program is now on hiatus) and authored a regular feature in Washington Monthly magazine. The book presents conversations with a diverse selection of leading policy and opinion leaders. These well-known personalities from across the ideological spectrum propose solutions to problems and conflicts vexing America as it headed into the 2008 election.

The forward to Hope Is a Tattered Flag is written by satirist Will Durst who says about the book, “Laufer and Kounalakis have pulled down the ‘Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here’ sign from the portal of the future via their causal yet cutting conversations with a cross section of American political and cultural figures. Time after time they blast through the usual ten-second sound bite, interacting with names that are familiar, allowing us to see them in unfamiliar candor. They also mirror the country with a cast of fascinating little-known personalities – such as the fellow whose personal crusade is to legalize ferret pet ownership in California. You can’t make stuff up like this. And if you could, why bother? Laufer and Kounaliakis have already done all the hard work. And they make it seem like play.”

Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life

This radio text is edited by Michael C. Keith. Peter Laufer wrote the talk radio chapter in the 2008 collection of essays by scholars analyzing how radio has influenced America’s social and cultural environment. In his chapter Laufer writes, “Talk radio is pornographic. Dislike it as I seem to, I keep returning to it.” His essay explains why talk radio skews right wing and in it he deconstructs a sample talk radio show to point how the demagogues who abuse the medium manipulate it masterfully to pursue their selfish goals, with the amoral cavalier dismissal, “Hey, it’s only show biz!” In the chapter Laufer excerpts a letter from a listener to his 2007 KPFA talk show, a note typifying the mentality of too many of the vox populi in the talk radio audience, which reads in part: “Hey dipshit, heard your ridiculous, typical leftist nonsense on the radio regarding illegal invasion. Bravo dork, thank you for standing up for the corrupt American business climate that profits off their illegal slaves . . .”

Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq

Disillusioned, outraged, and betrayed, some American soldiers took a stand against the war in Iraq.

A shattering journey of revelation, pain, and betrayal, Mission Rejected takes the reader deep into the turmoil of U.S. troops confronting the Iraq War. Some of these soldiers have decided not to fight in Iraq. Others, who have served in the “Sand Box” only to return so appalled by their experience and by what that experience has done to them, choose to declare, in the words of the old Phil Ochs song, “I’m not marchin’ anymore!”

Praise for this timely and important book by Peter Laufer comes from Cindy Sheehan, Norman Solomon, and Jim Hightower along with this poignant appraisal from Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Reserves Colonel and former U.S. diplomat. “In the military, real courage is taking a stand against orders one believes are unlawful and accepting the consequences. Moral cowardice is taking the easy way by accepting unlawful orders and committing illegal actions. Ultimately, one must live with oneself. These women and men have chosen the hard short path to freedom from the long-term emotional, spiritual and physical consequences of conducting state sponsored murder in a conflict that has nothing to do with our national security.”

After testifying at the invitation of Representative Lynn Woolsey to Congress on U.S. soldiers who say no to Iraq, Peter Laufer received a note from her saying, “. . . your thoughtful testimony and remarks were insightful and invaluable to the forum and to this Congress as a whole. Through your radio show, books, and presentations you have given voice to the unheard. I commend you. Thank you for your voice and for your words!”

To read Peter Laufer’s Huffington Post op-eds about this book, go here:

To see and hear Peter Laufer talking about this book with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now click here.

Read an excerpt from Mission Rejected in the London Sunday Times magazine.

Laufer talks war resistance on Book TV.

Watch Peter Laufer talk about Mission Rejected at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, broadcast on CSPAN’s Book TV.

About Mission Rejected, Howard Zinn wrote, “These heartbreaking, powerful stories tell more about the war in Iraq than any analysis by pundits or journalists. I hope this book will be widely read, especially by young people who may be enticed, by false promises or deceptive patriotic exhortations, to go to war.”

Wetback Nation

The border between the U.S. and Mexico has long been a separation of cultures, a sign of frustration between two countries, and a symbol of illegal entry. Peter Laufer’s Wetback Nation: The Case For Opening The Mexican-American Border offers a surprisingly different viewpoint, arguing for the free movement of Mexicans back and forth across the border rather than increased border restrictions. Published by Ivan R. Dee; Luís Urrea says about Wetback Nation, “Fearlessly, Peter Laufer steps into the middle of the debate … making points that will leave people shaking their heads … A primary text.”

Peter Laufer debated (and won) the premises of his book Wetback Nation with Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly. Fox fired O’Reilly and severed the link to the debate.

Peter Laufer discussed Wetback Nation on Air America with Rachel Maddow. The network went out of business and the link disappeared.

Read the New York Sun review of Wetback Nation

Editorial Diana in Mexico City published the Spanish-language edition.

Exodus to Berlin

When the Berlin Wall fell, the German government invited Soviet-bloc Jews to come make a new life in prosperous and democratic Germany.  Exodus to Berlin: The Return of the Jews to Germany tells the story of that migration. Since 1989 more than 100,000 Jews have accepted Germany’s invitation, filling Berlin and the rest of the country with a vibrant subculture. But almost simultaneous with the first flow of Jewish immigrants, and stimulated by the failure of German unification to deliver promised prosperity to the former East Germany, neo-Nazis have been on the march in Germany, vowing to reclaim “Germany for the Germans!” Peter Laufer brings this current history to life through vivid narratives of events he experienced in Germany and dozens of highly personal interviews he conducted with the participants. Published by Ivan R. Dee; Marc Fisher writes in the Washington Post, “Laufer has done a splendid service … Laufer’s journey to Berlin is a ride full of revelations.”

Inside Talk Radio

“Talk radio is pornographic,” charges talk show host and radio programmer Laufer, “but I love it.” He takes us on a trip through the potent, powerful, and often distressing world of talk radio. Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? traces the evolution of today’s talk shows back to the earliest days of radio as the author explains how talk show hosts with no credentials other than their ability to entertain developed into powerful political pundits and arbiters of popular culture. Publishers Weekly writes, “After reading Laufer’s inside account of the industry, readers will wonder: If secondary stupidity is catching, America is in for an epidemic.” Read more about this title.

A Question of Consent

In 1993, a fascinating courtroom drama unfolded in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, as defense attorneys portrayed a mentally retarded rape victim as a seductress and her four rapists as regular all-American boys. The lawyers went on to explain how the teenagers had made an excusable mistake in sexually assaulting the young woman with a succession of foreign objects. The Glen Ridge case is symptomatic of ills that plague our society. By exposing the ways mainstream mentality enables rationalization of sex crimes, A Question of Consent raises chilling questions about the sexual mores of late twentieth-century America.

Published by Mercury House; former NBC law correspondent Bonnie Erbe wrote, “Journalist Peter Laufer captivates and engages the reader, giving the book the feel of a fast-paced movie … he produces a can’t-put-it-down account of this heinous crime. He also sums up what this crime says about where we as a society are heading in a way that gives the most steely-eyed among us pause.”

Nightmare Abroad

The outgrowth of Laufer’s multiple award-winning NBC radio documentary on U.S. citizens held in foreign prisons, this eye-opening survey should be read by any one traveling abroad. Laufer, who visited Americans jailed in 21 countries, emphasizes three major points: that most nations adhere to the Napoleonic code, which presumes the accused to be guilty until proven innocent; that few nations grant bail between arrest and trial; and that the State department will rarely intervene to aid an accused or convicted American for fear of upsetting relations with the host country. NBC Today show producer Rich Minner, producer says, “Any American traveling outside the United States should read Nightmare Abroad.”

Iron Curtain Rising

Peter Laufer was on the first plane to Berlin when the wall that divided the city opened in 1989. Iron Curtain Rising: A Personal Journey through the Changing Landscape of Eastern Europe is his eye-witness report of that spectacular event and the revolutions and elections throughout Eastern Europe that followed. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Veteran international correspondent Laufer, who covered the Eastern bloc revolution for ABC and CBS, here offers images, anecdotes, and conversations with ordinary citizens that give a fuller flavor of how the prospect of freedom affects individuals.”

Neon Nevada

The glow of Nevada and neon is more than an advertising call. Since the invention of the neon sign the flashing colors documented the development of the Silver State. Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer criss-cross Nevada to bring both the frivolity and the reality of Nevada neon to life.


Gone, and almost forgotten.

An updated, revised and expanded edition of Neon Nevada was published by the University of Nevada Press in 2023.  The new edition of the book includes some 100 full color images.

Made in Mexico

Illustrated by Laufer’s sister Susan L. Roth, Made in Mexico touches on some of the wider social and economic issues of Mexico, showing “there’s more than mariachi music in Mexico.” The book combines beautiful art with an opportunity to learn a few Spanish words as well as an appreciation for the lives and culture of people elsewhere in the world. With collages that include cut paper, festival confetti, shopping bags and wood shavings, the text gives children and their families a window into the culture and economy of a Mexican mountain village world-famous for its guitars. Published by National Geographic, the book won the Gold Award from National Parenting Publications and was cited on the notable social studies trade books list of the Children’s Book Council and the Nation Council for the Social Studies.

Safety and Security for Women Who Travel

Personal safety is a prime concern for women on the road, and this collection of tips and wisdom gives women the tools they need to be secure, confident travelers. Authors Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer help lay to rest fears and provide guidance for women to travel securely anywhere in the world. Published by Traveler’s Tales; The Christian Science Monitor writes, “A cache of valuable advice.”

Wireless Etiquette

A specific guide to help users with the mobile electronic communications networks of our present age, Peter Laufer wrote this book in conjunction with the mobile phone company Omnipoint; Journalist and novelist Terry Phillips was managing editor of the project and wrote the Foreword. Wireless Etiquette draws attention to our wireless behaviors and explores the social ramifications that technology brings to society. In the book Laufer makes clear that the most egregious, most inappropriate and foul thing we’re all guilty of is reaching for a ringing phone in the middle of an in-person encounter. The Economist writes approvingly, “An excellent little book.”


The elegant Wireless Etiquette  dust jacket (featuring a Grant Wood painting) designed by Chris Slattery.

Highlights of a Lowlife

This book is the autobiography of Milan Melvin, edited and completed by Peter Laufer. A limited edition was published by Swan Isle Books. Rolling Stone magazine and KSAN survivor author Ben Fong-Torres wrote of the work, “Milan Melvin was one of the most fascinating figures out of the sixties. In fact, a case could be made that he helped to shape that time of our lives. Peter Laufer is one of the sharpest journalists out of the sixties. In one of his last major decisions, Milan asked Peter to help him tell his story. Together they do, and it is one for the ages. Light up, buckle up, and enjoy the flight.”Read more about this title.

When Hollywood Was Fun

Written in collaboration with Hollywood photographer Gene Lester, this book, subtitled “Snapshots of an Era” reveals intriguing, behind-the-scene stories of the Hollywood of the 30’s, 40 ‘s and 50’s. Read more about this title. Read more about this title.

When Hollywood Was Fun!

Shock and Awe

Spring 2003, President Bush launched his pre-emptive war on Iraq as mililons of citizens worldwide protested the invasion and occupation. Journalist Peter Laufer responded by filling a time capsule marking those three weeks from the first “shock and awe” bombs over Baghdad to the made-for-TV US-orchestrated toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in the conquered capital.
Read more about this title.