The best books showing the hidden struggles of Oklahomans

Who am I?

I grew up on my family’s land run farm north of Enid before coming to the OKC metro for school, giving me a view of the quiet rural spaces and the hopping city life Oklahoma pushes for today and more! 

I wrote...

Secret Oklahoma City: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

By Jeff Provine,

Book cover of Secret Oklahoma City: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

What is my book about?

Oklahoma City was called “A City Born Grown” after it went from a population of a handful at Oklahoma Depot to over 10,000 on its first day. Nobody seems to mention how the streets were laid crooked and took 80 years to fix by tearing up half of downtown and that two rival city governments aimed guns at one another until the Supreme Court sorted out who was in charge. And that was only its first six months!

Secret Oklahoma City: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure shares the places and stories that you won’t hear in History class, though you probably should! Find out what a giant milk bottle is doing on top of an old grocery store off 23rd.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love this book?

Oklahoma runs on oil, a sticky shadow to just about every major town, family, or even structure. We all know it. Even if we aren’t getting our paychecks directly from the energy field, we ride the rollercoaster of the economic booms and busts. When money is flush, it attracts the best and the worst, and we try not to think about what people are willing to do to get that money. Killers brings to light the true story of the Osage nation becoming millionaires as well as the men who preyed on victims to get a hold of that money by trickery and murder.

By David Grann,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Killers of the Flower Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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. As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. But the bureau badly bungled the investigation. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover…

Book cover of And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes

Why did I love this book?

People were shocked to read about the Osage murders, but those who’ve read Angie Debo just had to sigh and shake their heads since it’s nothing new. Her 1936 work opened my eyes to the systematic devastation of the tribes, bite by bite. Forced off their homelands with removal, they were promised to hold land in Oklahoma “as long as the waters run,” but it wasn’t more than a few decades before allotment narrowed tribal holdings and opened up more land to be taken. With Native peoples not even legal citizens, anyone with money had to have a guardian, a breeding ground for amoral administrators to siphon off as much as they wanted.

By Angie Debo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked And Still the Waters Run as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Debo's classic work tells the tragic story of the spoliation of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations at the turn of the last century in what is now the state of Oklahoma. After their earlier forced removal from traditional lands in the southeastern states--culminating in the devastating 'trail of tears' march of the Cherokees--these five so-called Civilized Tribes held federal land grants in perpetuity, or "as long as the waters run, as long as the grass grows." Yet after passage of the Dawes Act in 1887, the land was purchased back from the tribes, whose members were then…

Book cover of Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding... Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis

Why did I love this book?

Reading stories of history long past is one thing, but it’s another to see our own history. I grew up after the big oil bust of the ‘80s and the renaissance afterward, which Anderson juxtaposes with the wild days of early Oklahoma City. It’s hard to believe you can get gunfights and NBA playoffs all in one place, but Boom Town, and Oklahoma City, show just how to do that.

By Sam Anderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Boom Town as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant, kaleidoscopic narrative of Oklahoma City—a great American story of civics, basketball, and destiny, from award-winning journalist Sam Anderson

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • NPR • Chicago Tribune • San Francisco Chronicle • The Economist • Deadspin

Oklahoma City was born from chaos. It was founded in a bizarre but momentous “Land Run” in 1889, when thousands of people lined up along the borders of Oklahoma Territory and rushed in at noon to stake their claims. Since then, it has been a city torn between the wild…

Book cover of The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

Why did I love this book?

It wasn’t until HBO’s Watchmen that most people learned of the Tulsa Race Massacre, though a few of us who paid attention in tenth-grade history remember a line or two about a “riot” back in Tulsa before the book moved on to talk about something else. This book gives chilling firsthand accounts, both from the author as well as other survivors, who experienced the demolition of an entire community strictly out of prejudice, fear, and hate. It’s a good reminder that it can happen anywhere, any time if we let it.

By Mary E. Jones Parrish,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nation Must Awake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary Parrish was reading in her home when the Tulsa race massacre began on the evening of May 31, 1921. Parrish's daughter, Florence Mary, called the young journalist and teacher to the window. "Mother," she said, "I see men with guns."

The two eventually fled into the night under a hail of bullets and unwittingly became eyewitnesses to one of the greatest race tragedies in American history.

Spurred by word that a young Black man was about to be lynched for stepping on a white woman's foot, a three-day riot erupted that saw the death of hundreds of Black Oklahomans…

The Grapes of Wrath

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of The Grapes of Wrath

Why did I love this book?

I’m always shocked at how many must-reads and banned-books lists Steinbeck’s masterpiece shows up on. The term “okie” still rubs some people the wrong way, feeling that stigma their (and even my) grandparents felt at struggling through the Dust Bowl and another wave of agricultural depression in the 1950s. Steinbeck gives a captivating portrayal of the experience living in or leaving Oklahoma, but it’s the interspersed chapters with other perspectives that always linger in my mind, whether the tractor-driver for the factory-farm that sold out his people for $3.00 (thirty silver dimes) or the waitress who lies about candy being two-for-a-penny instead of five cents each so some kids can buy them. People are capable of the greatest purposeful good or the worst indifferent evil.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Grapes of Wrath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied.'

Shocking and controversial when it was first published, The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck's Pultizer Prize-winning epic of the Joad family, forced to travel west from Dust Bowl era Oklahoma in search of the promised land of California. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness, yet out of their struggle Steinbeck created a drama that is both intensely human and majestic in its scale and moral vision.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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