Book Review: Boomtown

Author: Sam Anderson
Published: August 21, 2018
Genre: American History
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Boomtown was one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the last few years. While I must admit, I struggled with getting in to it, the second half picked up so much speed that I was smiling ear to ear while reading all three epilogues. I often say that I’m a lover of non-fiction, but I’ve realized recently that I’m a lover of non-fiction until it comes to the epilogue. I normally get bored with the “lessons learned” and “where do we go from here” sections, so staying engaged to until the last word brought me true joy. I finished it at a cafe during lunch and walked back to work with an extra little pep in my step!

Boomtown is, simply, a history of Oklahoma City. From it’s crazy founding, to its attempted renaissance in the 1970s, Oklahoma City has never stopped trying to become a world class city. Boomtown tells the story of Oklahoma City from the founding, to the energy industry boom, and from the 1995 bombing to the 2012 NBA finals, and it does it so well. Oklahoma City is a city that trusts in the process, and rolls with the booms and the busts.

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First of all, I want to make one thing clear – you do not need to have any prior knowledge or interest in Oklahoma City or even basketball to like this book. Sure, it would definitely help, but I’ve never been to Oklahoma City or seen a single OKC basketball game and I loved this book.

This book has so many themes, which is exactly how I wanted it to be written. I wanted to learn the full history of Oklahoma City through a series of stories. I say this mostly to admit that at one point in reading this book, I did stall and lose some hope in it (as can happen when you’re reading an ARC!). After the initial comedy of the Land Run wore off (yes, Oklahoma was literally founded by people running in from the borders and claiming a plot of land), I felt like the book lingered a little too long in this time period. Since the pattern of switching between stories hadn’t been established, I wondered if the point of the book was the founding of the city and it would just stay there for the rest of the book – well I was wrong, and soon after I had that thought, the book jumped ahead to focus on the ’50s, ’70s, ’90s, and 2010s – a much more relateable period. As it turned out, the true structure of the book was to alternate between the present and the past, where the historical stories continued to progress through time and the “present” was told as the 2012 season of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Speaking of the Thunder… Sports – they get me every time. šŸ™‚ . This story, the story of Oklahoma City, would be nothing without a focus on sports. So many of their failures and successes as a city have a tie to sports. This book walks through the entire 2012-2013 season from preseason to the Finals, through all the ups, downs, and injuries. If you’ve ever loved Remember The Titans, The Blindside, Beartown (winkĀ Ā wink), or any other sports narrative, consider checking this book out. This may look like a history of a city, but it’s also a story of a sports team, and the city that needed them.

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And finally, this book (or review) would not be complete without adressing the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 people and was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States until 9/11.Ā  As this event has such a strong association with the city, I expected the bombing to be a primary focus of the story. Instead the book was told with hardly a mention of it for the first seventy-five percent or so. By the middle of the book I had all but forgotten that there was a deadly bombing in the city. But as Anderson started to describe the day, I couldĀ feel my heart beating out of my chest. IĀ love in a nonfiction when you know what is going to happen, and the suspenseĀ still gets to you. IĀ felt this brewing and was so moved. I loved that by the time the bombing was adressed you had come to know so many characters in Oklahoma City and Anderson let you know where each of them was. It gave you an eerie sense of being there and a strong concern for these people you had gotten to know. It was, in my opinion, the strongest way this story could have been told. (Seriously, getting chills writing this.)

In closing, I just want to say that, with all nonfiction, it’s the writing that really makes or breaks it. This book was well researched and artfully compiled with so much affection for the city and particularly it’s people. There was one chapter in particular in this book that left my jaw open with admiration of the writing. It’s called Buffalo. I truly believe that if you read one thing from this book, it should be this chapter. I read it, re-read it, and then read it outloud to my boyfriend. It’s that good.Ā I’ll leave you with this passage.

“I’m not saying that Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City in 1995 because the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row. […] Such a claim would be absurd. Human motives are incalcuably complex. But that Buffalo heartbreak was one of the many shadows that fell across McVeigh’s life between his unstable childhood and his perpetration of mass murder in Oklahoma City. The almost unbelieveable failure of the Bills, and the civic pain it caused, amplified his native pain.
[…]
It’s easy to pretend that sports doesn’t matter in real life, but for many millions of people it does. It matters profoundly, every day. After Super Bowl XXVII, Timothy McVeigh went looking for somewhere else to be, something else to do – something bigger, more meaningful, more real. Reality had failed him, in so many ways, so he went off to pursue his own fantasy of justice, very far from Buffalo.”

 

This book comes out on August 21st, so keep an eye out for it in the next few months!

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.