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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

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“Disturbing and riveting…It will sear your soul.” Dave Eggers, New York Times Book Review

Shelf Awareness’s Best Book of 2017

Named a best book of the year by Wall Street Journal, GQ, Time, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, NPR’s Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s “On Point”, Vogue.com, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Seattle Times, Bloomberg, Library Journal, Paste, Book Browse 

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history



In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
 Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.


In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.


In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

Recommended

Amazon.com Review

The Amazon Editors’ Pick for the Best Book of 2017: In the 1920s, the Osage found themselves in a unique position among Native Americans tribes. As other tribal lands were parceled out in an effort by the government to encourage dissolution and assimilation of both lands and culture, the Osage negotiated to maintain the mineral rights for their corner of Oklahoma, creating a kind of “underground reservation.” It proved a savvy move; soon countless oil rigs punctured the dusty landscape, making the Osage very rich. And that’s when they started dying.

You’d think the Osage Indian Reservation murders would have been a bigger story, one as familiar as the Lindbergh kidnapping or Bonnie and Clyde. It has everything, but at scale: Execution-style shootings, poisonings, and exploding houses drove the body count to over two dozen, while private eyes and undercover operatives scoured the territory for clues. Even as legendary and infamous oil barons vied for the most lucrative leases, J. Edgar Hoover’s investigation – which he would leverage to enhance both the prestige and power of his fledgling FBI – began to overtake even the town’s most respected leaders.

Exhuming the massive amount of detail is no mean feat, and it’s even harder to make it entertaining. But journalist David Grann knows what he’s doing. With the same obsessive attention to fact – in service to storytelling – as The Lost City of ZKillers of the Flower Moon reads like narrative-nonfiction as written by James M. Cain (there are, after all, insurance policies involved): smart, taut, and pacey. Most sobering, though, is how the tale is at once unsurprising and unbelievable, full of the arrogance, audacity, and inhumanity that continues to reverberate through today’s headlines. –Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review

From School Library Journal

In 1920s Oklahoma, many members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation were dying untimely and suspicious deaths. The widespread crimes against the Osage and the inability to identify those responsible led to the establishment of what is now known as the FBI. Grann, author of the best-selling The Lost City of Z, makes a complex web of violence and deception easy to follow by keeping the focus on one Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, whose family members were murdered one by one. This gripping title uncovers a baffling level of corruption.

The author points his investigative lens at the perpetrators of the murders, reveals cover-ups by authorities all the way up to the national level, and illustrates that the deception continued almost a century later. There are plenty of curriculum connections: Native American and Osage tribal history, economics, law enforcement, and journalism. A varied selection of photographs help to set the scene for readers. End pages include comprehensive source notes, citations, and a bibliography. VERDICT This thoroughly researched, suspenseful exposé will appeal to followers of true crime programs such as the podcast Serial and the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, as well as to fans of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House.—Tara Kehoe, formerly at New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center, Trenton

Originally published: 18 April 2017

AuthorDavid Grann

Pages: 352 pp. (hardcover)

Genre: True crime

AwardsEdgar Award for Best Fact CrimeAnthony Award for Best Critical/Nonfiction Work

NominationsNational Book Award for NonfictionGoodreads Choice Awards Best History & Biography

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