Boom Town – Sam Anderson


This is somewhat of a random book both to write and to select to read.  It’s a sort-of history of Oklahoma City written from the standpoint of it being a unique place with a unique history and civic makeup.  The book is not exhaustive by any means, and the author builds much of the story around the coming and travails of the Oklahoma City Thunder (the city’s NBA team).

Overall it was a fun read with probably just one caveat.  The author is a good writer and the stories are interesting.  He does a good job of painting the uniqueness of OKC all the way from how it began (essentially in one day during the Oklahoma land rush) to how it’s functioned since (as a place that’s really in the middle of nowhere yet with aspirations to be a major league city).

His interweaving of the story of the Thunder with the city’s history is fascinating.  How the Thunder came to OKC, its unprecedented success in the early years of the team, the civic angst over trading James Harden, and the ongoing soap opera between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook along with how each player was perceived by the community up to Durant leaving in free agency.  The Thunder play a very large role both in the community and in the book.

The book – as you might imagine – also recounts the details around the 1995 bombing.  I didn’t realize (or had forgotten) until I read it that Timothy McVeigh was actually from Buffalo and had no connection to Oklahoma City at all.  The reason he picked it was that it was close to where he was living at the time and it had a large federal building.  He was a messed-up Buffalo Bills fan and army vet who fought in the Gulf War and wasn’t able to reintegrate into society.  He blamed all his own and society’s ills on the federal government.

The ongoing effect of the bombing on the community is hard to overstate.  Nothing has been the same since it occurred.  The author talks about several people who to this day start crying just discussing it.  The Thunder actually require all new players and employees to visit the bombing memorial as soon as they come to the team – no exceptions.  The team knows someone can’t understand the city without appreciating what happened and its ramifications.

Other notable subjects are weather (constant wind and the ever-present threat of tornadoes) and oil.  Oil exploration has led to the boom and bust nature of the town and its economy, and weather has wreaked havoc with the city from day one.

One odd thing about the book is that it came out this year but its account essentially ends in 2013.  Anderson does provide some epilogues that chronicle Kevin Durant leaving in free agency and brings the reader closer to the present day.  But the lag between the research and the writing seems longer than what you’d expect.  Not a big deal, just odd.

So what’s the one caveat I referred to above?  It’s not a huge deal, but the author is definitely an elite coast-lander (lives in New York and writes for The New York Times Magazine) and his condescension toward all things mid-America comes across in several parts of the book.  I’m sure he can’t help it – to people like him there is no fathomable reason to live anywhere west of I-95 or east of the Sierra Nevadas – but it’s definitely there.

That caveat aside, I recommend the book.  You might enjoy it more if you’re either an NBA fan or at least familiar with the Thunder, but I think anyone who likes history will be glad they read it.  It’s compelling, interesting, and hard to put down – everything you want in a book.

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