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

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Award-winning journalist Sam Anderson’s long-awaited debut is a brilliant, kaleidoscopic narrative of Oklahoma City--a great American story of civics, basketball, and destiny.

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 energy that drives its outsized ambitions, and the forces of order that seek sustainable progress. Nowhere was this dynamic better realized than in the drama of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team's 2012-13 season, when the Thunder's brilliant general manager, Sam Presti, ignited a firestorm by trading future superstar James Harden just days before the first game. Presti's all-in gamble on "the Process"—the patient, methodical management style that dictated the trade as the team’s best hope for long-term greatness—kicked off a pivotal year in the city's history, one that would include pitched battles over urban planning, a series of cataclysmic tornadoes, and the frenzied hope that an NBA championship might finally deliver the glory of which the city had always dreamed.

Boom Town announces the arrival of an exciting literary voice. Sam Anderson, former book critic for New York magazine and now a staff writer at the New York Times magazine, unfolds an idiosyncratic mix of American history, sports reporting, urban studies, gonzo memoir, and much more to tell the strange but compelling story of an American city whose unique mix of geography and history make it a fascinating microcosm of the democratic experiment. Filled with characters ranging from NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; to Flaming Lips oddball frontman Wayne Coyne; to legendary Great Plains meteorologist Gary England; to Stanley Draper, Oklahoma City's would-be Robert Moses; to civil rights activist Clara Luper; to the citizens and public servants who survived the notorious 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, Boom Town offers a remarkable look at the urban tapestry woven from control and chaos, sports and civics.

428 pages, Hardcover

First published August 21, 2018

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About the author

Sam Anderson

37 books122 followers
Sam Anderson is an American book reviewer and author. He is the critic at large for The New York Times Magazine. Prior to joining The New York Times Magazine, he was a book critic at New York Magazine. In 2007 he received the Balakian Award for Excellence in Criticism from the National Book Critics Circle.

He holds a masters degree from Louisiana State University.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,071 reviews
Profile Image for Brina.
873 reviews4 followers
July 21, 2019
As the summer approaches it’s apex I am drawn to books about the south and west, climates where residents have a penchant for front porch story telling. If not a southern verdant, then I find myself moved by tales of the old west, cowboys, Indians, and America’s manifest destiny to overtake an entire continent. Oklahoma is in America’s fly over country en route to either coast and is best known for foisting Indian territory from the native Americans and for its inferiority complex and rivalry with Texas. Nothing seemingly stands out about Oklahoma at first glance, yet I was intrigued by Boom Town with its bright blue and orange cover on the staff recommendation rack at my library. Featuring disjointed history, tornadoes, and an unlikely basketball team, Boom Town looked to be a wild ride through Oklahoma history that appeared too bright to ignore.

Sam Anderson first game to Oklahoma City in 2012 to cover the Thunder and was taken by the city enough to stay for awhile and uncover its history. Oklahoma was one of the last bastions of the American west, after it had been declared closed. Settlers from neighboring states looking for land to call their own petitioned the federal cover to open Indian Territory to settlers. After a few botched attempts in what would be emblematic of the city’s history, the government allowed Oklahoma to be open to settlers. The race to settle the territory that would become known as the Land Grab began at high noon on April 22, 1889. Rife with illegal activity, competing groups, and lawlessness, Oklahoma City in its earliest form was founded. What is often swept under the rug is that the Land Grab was limited to white settlers, although blacks came to Oklahoma in search of a better life following the reconstruction era. The city and territory aligned itself with southern values and looked to find leaders at the dawn of the 20th century. The first civic leader Angelo Scott would bury a time capsule in 1913 to be unearthed one hundred years later by what he assumed would be Oklahoma City’s venerable citizens.

Oklahoma City is a history of destruction and failed promises. Only 130 years old, the city has been victim to the boom and bust cycle, tornadoes, the bombing of a federal building, and Jim Crow laws that have largely been swept under the rug. Anderson navigates back and forth between present and past, featuring a large cast of characters ranging from Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison to Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne. Weatherman Gary England is a statewide celebrity, and civil rights activist Clara Luper is largely forgotten in the annals of history yet equally as important as her eastern contemporaries. One would be remiss not to mention Stanley Draper, a chamber of commerce official who used his government connections to tear down and modernize Oklahoma City for better or worse. These characters who have dotted the brief history of Oklahoma City have contended with inept officials, failed promises of urban renewal, tornadoes’ destruction, and a federal building bombing that threatened to derail any progress the renewal committee had promised as history moved toward the 21st century.

Boom could refer to the path of a tornado, a stick of dynamite tearing down an old building, a sonic jet flying over the city, or the sound of 19,000 raucous fans filling a basketball arena. The 2012 version of the Oklahoma City Thunder that Sam Anderson first reported on is now obsolete. Over the last month, the last of the team’s original stars has left for glitzier surroundings elsewhere. In 2008, Thunder owners stole the SuperSonics from Seattle right under the league’s nose and moved the team into Oklahoma City’s new Chesapeake Energy Arena, built to be a symbol of urban renewal. Only thirteen years after the Murrah Federal Building bombing, the Thunder’s presence gave the city and state something to be proud of, to galvanize themselves over. Although the first four years of the franchise featured bad teams that gave fans few reasons to cheer, by 2012, the team featuring young stars had matured to become a major force in the NBA. People from all over Oklahoma City from Wayne Coyne to rapper Jabree to Clara Luper’s son Calvin came to cheer the Thunder. In the city’s 130 year history, the team’s success was its most shining moment. In this moment, Anderson realized that he wanted to research the story behind the city and stayed to study the characters and events that gave the city its unique flavor.

Today, Oklahoma City has a bohemian district. The young people are staying put rather than leaving for better pastures in Houston, Denver, or Los Angeles. The Thunder remains the city’s only major team and looks to have some down years ahead. Wayne Coyne is still relevant, Gary England is enjoying retirement, and April 22 is still celebrated by school children as Land Grab Day. All new members of the Thunder are required by team president Sam Presti to tour the Murrah Building Memorial, even Oklahoma City native son Daniel Orton who lived through the horrific day as a four year old. Tornadoes rumble through, buildings rise and fall, yet Oklahoma City finally seems to have a grasp on maintaining itself for future generations. I knew little of the city or state aside from it being Indian Territory prior to reading Boom Town, yet Sam Anderson has depicted Oklahoma City as a fun place to visit in the midst of fly over country, a city of colorful characters who have somehow created a vibrant history in-spite of the cycles of boom and bust destruction.

4 stars
Profile Image for Brandice.
797 reviews
December 4, 2019
Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis is quite the title for a book, yet also a fitting summary of what’s covered here by journalist Sam Anderson.

Boom Town chronicles the history of Oklahoma City (OKC) — a, dare I say it, “small” city — that seems to have perpetually ridden the rollercoaster of boom and bust. Anderson details OKC’s founding in 1889 and many of the influential figures shaping the city’s history over the last 100+ years, including Stanley Draper, Clara Luper, and Angelo Scott. Anderson discusses its crazy weather, including massive storms, its segregation and racism, the seemingly endless plans to revitalize various areas of the city, the tragic OKC bombing in 1995, and how the Thunder came to be OKC’s basketball team.

With no direct connection to OKC or the state of Oklahoma itself, perhaps I felt a little more removed than I anticipated being. Some of the history detailed was interesting, including the origin of the Thunder, but other parts were a definite struggle for me to continue reading - I’ll be just fine if I don’t hear anything about Wayne Coyne again.

As a huge basketball fan, and fan of Russell Westbrook, I did like the in-depth, detailed rise of the Thunder and its playoff stints in 2012 and 2013. I have always admired Westbrook’s ownership of who he is, his fashion forward and flashy style, so I enjoyed being able to read more about him and his NBA game here. Be warned: There is a lot of basketball content in Boom Town - If you’re not a NBA fan, this may be a challenge, given the volume included here.

At its heart, Boom Town is the story of OKC - Its highs and lows, the continued optimism of its citizens, and the (mostly) dedicated support of Thunder fans.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,057 reviews52 followers
May 30, 2020
The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City by Sam Anderson

In 1880, Oklahoma still did not exist. This was light-years into the American experiment, more than a century after the Declaration of Independence, fifteen years after the end of the Civil War. By then, all the states around it existed

I enjoyed this bestselling book about OKC’s history. The pacing was perfect. I wish histories of this quality were written about every American city. To be sure, this is not a comprehensive history of the town. Not even close. Nor is it advertised as such. But it is so well drawn. It somehow blends the topical and historical, a marvelous achievement.

Oklahoma City was born in an event called, with extreme dramatic understatement, the Land Run.

The Sooner land rush began at noon on April 22, 1889. In perhaps the most comical part of the book, the “Nooners” as the author Anderson calls them, literally popped out of the prairie lands. Federal authorities were helpless to stop the cheats from crossing the line days — and even weeks early. And the prime pieces of quarter sections in all of Oklahoma were on the hilltops near the Canadian River in the area that became OKC. There were disputes, sometimes violent. In the forthcoming weeks and months, the citizens had to police themselves. Justice was often was swift to maintain order. We learn about the man Edward O’Kelley who killed the man who killed Jesse James. O’Kelley dies at the hands of a police officer whom he tried to murder.

Edward O’Kelley

Such were the ilk attracted to OKC around the turn of the century. Still the little settlement grew and when Oklahoma agriculture really took off and railroads became ubiquitous, the town became the biggest in the territory. In 1910 when Oklahoma became a state, OKC became the capital — some say it was stolen from the territorial capital Guthrie when the Governor moved his office to OKC before Congress could officially approve.

OKC continued to grow quickly. Anderson covers the segregation of the early 20th century that became a big problem for the city when a massive oil field was discovered there. This coincided with the Great Depression and while Okies suffered, OKC did better than most cities because of the oil. Many swindlers grabbed and stole property from the economically disadvantaged — including those in the African American sections of town. In the ensuing chapters we hear the story of Stanley Draper. Draper ran the OKC Chamber of Commerce with an iron fist for decades. He was the unelected ruler of the city. He did make positive impacts in transitioning OKC into a modern city much like Robert Moses of NYC did during the same time period through the 1960s. But this renewal also led to the destruction of most of the town’s historical structures and an alienation of the minority neighborhoods.

Anderson spends parts of several different chapters covering the story of the area’s propensity for deadly tornadoes from the 1960’s though the 00’s. The hero of the story is OKC’s beloved weatherman, Gary England.

Gary England

Anderson moves on to the 1990s and the alternative scene with the Flaming Lips and their front man Wayne Coyne.

Wayne Coyne - Flaming Lips Frontman

There are a few other citizens' backstories that are explored in order to set up the story of the fatal explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Alfred P Murrah Building

The coverage of the explosion and ensuing tragedy is excellent and includes the response by the city’s leaders to remake the city over yet once again. There is a great tie-in to the wealthy businessmen who pursued, acquired and moved the Seattle Supersonics to OKC — OKC business leaders have always had chips on their shoulders.

About 1/3 of the book is interspersed with coverage of the star-studded 2012 OKC Thunder and their quest for the NBA championship. James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook feature prominently. This Thunder thread, along with the periodic coverage of the Flaming Lips and the tornadoes provide most of the current event coverage.

5 stars. Highly recommended. Anderson is a journalist by trade and does a remarkable job of weaving the historical threads with the current events. Most of the topics only have the city itself in common. Perhaps subtract a star on the rating above if you don’t enjoy reading about basketball. One of my favorite micro history books that I’ve read.
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,015 followers
November 5, 2018
It's a surreal experience to read the deepest dive any writer (and big-time publisher) will ever undertake about your hometown, which, as "Boom Town's" mostly East Coast reviewers have noted, is one of those places that almost nobody thinks about.

I was born and raised in Oklahoma City and left to go to college when I was 18 (in 1986), returning less and less as the years passed and family died (or moved). Now it's mostly a trip back for a high school reunion every five or 10 years. Enough about OKC remains the same, so that these visits can become a satisfying nostalgia trip. It's a real and always sentimental journey for me, but a lot has changed, to say the very least. This is a book about a truly American place always on the verge of something big, ever since 1889, and never quite getting there. Sam Anderson has done a terrific job of mixing historical research and literary wonder, understanding Oklahoma City for what it is and what it dreams of being.

It's heartbreaking, really -- the implosion/explosion and boom/bust metaphors woven into its identity, including the 1995 federal building bombing that I covered as a reporter who was sent back home to write about the nature of the place.

I was telling a friend from high school about the experience of reading "Boom Town" and encountering all this historical material that I somehow already knew, almost inherently. "Laverne Crumley, duh," she said, recalling our sweet but stern Oklahoma History teacher (all high school freshmen had to take a semester of Oklahoma History, by law). My friend is right -- Mrs. Crumley gave us a great education in our state's chaotic history, people and places. Sam Anderson fills in a lot of holes in the story, particularly as it pertains to Oklahoma City's (and the state's) deplorable record on race and civil rights. As Anderson notes, it's a wonder Oklahoma City isn't uttered in the same breath as Birmingham and other Southern cities, given how hideously its white citizens treated anybody who wasn't white. (Or straight, I hasten to add. Or Christian, others hasten to add.)

I was happy and sad reading this book. I left OKC at full escape velocity -- I was a closeted gay kid who wanted to be a journalist, and the city offered me nothing but disappointment in either regard. Part of me wonders: What would it be like to return and make a life there?

Answer: I'd have to really like basketball, and I really don't. My only letdown with "Boom Town" is that soooooooo much of it is about the Thunder, the NBA franchise credited with finally putting Oklahoma City on the nation's cultural/entertainment map. I rarely buy into longform narrative journalism about the meaning of sports and sports teams/glory, etc., but I persevered and trusted Sam Anderson to tell the story he wanted to tell. After all, the Thunder is the only reason he visited Oklahoma City in the first place -- on assignment. Good for him for seeing so much more than that and sticking around so long to learn about it.
Profile Image for L.A. Starks.
Author 10 books648 followers
October 26, 2018
Anderson came to OKC from New York to report on the Thunder, Oklahoma City's basketball team, but he writes a fine history of Oklahoma City itself, interspersed with the Thunder's on-court drama. Anderson starts with the land run, writes about the growth by annexation, desegregation, the unfortunate clearing of downtown--an idea generated by I.M. Pei and adopted by the city fathers--the Murrah bombing, and tornadoes. He writes some about oil and gas but is less specific than he could be that poorer times (and less development) stemmed from oil and gas downturns.

Much to his credit, he gets the sources of Oklahoma's earthquakes right--not fracking but the deep wastewater disposal wells, which are now used much less than they were originally, with the result that earthquakes have decreased..

Anderson reports rather than comments, but it is clear I.M. Pei's brutalist downtown clearing of Oklahoma City was a bad idea--the hoped-for replacement buildings didn't come along. (I.M. Pei also did Dallas no favors with his design of its bunker-like city hall.) But--it's been pointed out that old buildings do not make particularly nice current places to live or stay--they require a lot of rehabbing to be livable.

The Murrah bombing was an enormous tragedy. Anderson treats it with the reporting and respect it deserves.

This book is recommended to all Oklahomans and anyone who likes the Thunder or who's ever been curious about Oklahoma City.
Profile Image for Ron S.
419 reviews26 followers
April 9, 2018
Who needs a synopsis with a sub-title like that? A fun, fast-paced read for people that enjoy unusual histories with a generous helping of weird.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,622 reviews279 followers
October 13, 2019
The motif of “boom” underlies the improbable story of Oklahoma City. Author, Sam Anderson, weaves back and forth in time often returning to the Thunder basketball team as a barometer of the city's present. Through unique and engaging prose, he gets to the essence of people and events.

While most cities grow organically, Oklahoma City was “boomed” on April 22, 1882, the day of the “Land Run”. People came from all over the US and elsewhere to claim “unassigned land” at the sound of a gun. This land was a Native American Reservation - the end point of the “Trail of Tears”. It was confiscated because tribes had fought for the Confederacy.

The dubious origins of the unassigned land (how many other confederates had their land confiscated?) presaged a future with other dubious deals such as the means by which an NBA team was procured and the the State Capitol designation taken from Tulsa. Residents had Project Bongo (6 months of loud booms 6 times a day) and an expensive urban renewal (plans by I.M. Pei) thrust upon them. Chesapeake Energy turned out to be a mixed blessing as a corporate citizen.

There are some sketches of the first days of the instant town with no infrastructure – no water, law enforcement, or streets between claims. There seems to be no retribution for those who cheated to get their land. The author shows the plight of the small number of black settlers who got the worst land.

With basketball as a major theme a lot of space is devoted to the personalities of the Thunder’s coach, Sam Pesti (and his “method”), James Harden (his beard and career), Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (as individuals and as a pair) and local talent Daniel Orton. There are in depth and compelling portraits of the wild and complex pop star (who out Zappa’s Frank Zappa) Wayne Coyne and his compound; Clara Luper the leader of OKC’s sit-ins and other civil rights causes and Gary England (extreme) weather expert and forecaster.

From the past you learn of David Payne who died suddenly in the first settlement attempt. Roscoe Dunjee publisher of an uncompromising and influential paper for blacks that inspired the "Invisible Man" author and OKC native, Ralph Ellison; Angelo Scott who chronicled the city’s early days and spoke to future generations in a time capsule; and Stanley Draper who lead urban renewal that did not create its intended “boom”.

The treatment of the Murrah Building bombing is a reporting and literary masterpiece. Anderson tells of an ordinary morning that has people greeting one another, dropping off day care kids, waiting for elevators and beginning meetings. He brings the tragedy home on p. 354: “168 people died, 219 children lost a parent; 30 were orphaned completely”. There are brief descriptions of McVeigh’s apprehension and sorry end.

There is no mention of the dust bowl. The 1930’s is shown as a “boom” time with the of discovery of oil.

Anderson shows how Oklahoma City is on par with, and may exceed, the US cities that are noted for their eccentricities: college towns, some CA cities, and artistic areas. It is an entertaining and informative book. Appreciating basketball will add to your enjoyment of it.

Because of the back an forth of time, a chronological chart would have been helpful-
Profile Image for Scott.
1,675 reviews119 followers
January 31, 2019
4.5 stars

Boom Town is one of those books that I refer to as "It's all right there in the title, folks."

Anderson - with a a lot of well-placed humor and extensive research - examines the origin of the relatively young metropolis, that is firmly entrenched in what is called America's 'flyover country,' starting with the chaotic Land Run of 1889 (where the settlers physically raced in to the then-territory to claim real estate -- probably best known from its depiction in the Tom Cruise / Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away) and the haphazard and often-violent origin of what would become the state's capital city. It initially depicted as a rough community, brimming with mostly cowboys and criminals. (The state itself is somewhat 'new,' at least by U.S. standards, established only in 1907.)

After detailing some of the founding fathers Anderson begins to switch gears between the other segments, focusing on the personalities in the region -- the newly acquired Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team (formerly the Seattle SuperSonics), and a study in contrasts between its superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; civil rights pioneer Clara Luper, a local legend who deserves to be more well-known like many of the men in national prominence from the same time period; long-time TV meteorologist Gary England, a calming, respected, and trusted presence during many of the area's frequently severe thunderstorms and tornadoes; and Wayne Coyne, eccentric front-man of the experimental rock group Flaming Lips, responsible for the single 'She Don't Use Jelly' in 1993.

Appropriately and tactfully, Anderson discusses the tragic Alfred Murrah federal building bombing near the finale, detailing terrorist Timothy McVeigh's horrific and devastating work in 1995. It is here that the author takes a rare misstep, albeit briefly, with a needless cheap shot at the state trooper who apprehended McVeigh (which was the first break in the case). Just stick to the facts, guy.

Boom Town is off-beat but intelligent history, uniquely covering the good and bad of a city.
Profile Image for Stella.
797 reviews31 followers
August 28, 2018
There a few versions of Oklahoma City. There's the "bombing" OKC. There's the "flyover state" OKC. Then there's the Thunder version.

Sam Anderson has taken Oklahoma City, the OKC Thunder and, really, the state of Oklahoma and combined it into a fantastic story. Shooing back and forth through time, Anderson captures what makes Oklahoma and the Thunder so great. This is the story of a great state, a state that popped up over night, a state that had a college before it was officially recognized as a state. There's the Land Run, tornados, Wayne Coyne, Gary England. There's also Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

I always find it hard to describe Oklahoma. Yes, it in the middle of the country and yes, it's full of people with very conservative values. But it's also the home of Clara Luper and Ralph Ellison, Wanda Jackson and Garth Brooks. The passion that Oklahomans have for college football, combined and made the OKC Thunder one of the most beloved teams in professional sports. Oklahomas love what is theirs. We love each other and we love Oklahoma.

This is a basketball book. This is a history book. This is Oklahoma.

Profile Image for Scott Ulrich.
9 reviews21 followers
March 8, 2022
I’m not one for reading through historical non-fiction novels such as this, but the combination of clever, modern storytelling, plus living in OKC for almost 10 years as reference, made this an enjoyable read. Over the process of reading this book, I now look at the city with a fresh perspective by its history and how its culture helped shaped what it is today — emphasizing “boom” in several senses of the word.

Favorite line of the book:

“The people were stunned. This was brand-new territory, the first ejection of Durant's career. It was like seeing the statue at the Lincoln Memorial stand up from its chair and start pushing school children down the front steps.”
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,309 followers
July 12, 2019
This came as a nice surprise for me. Meet someone and tell them you read and they tell you about a book written by their friend and you go out and get a copy because that's just the kind of guy you are.

So but you know how we're all working through this list of novels we call Großstadtromane? It's here ::
Well, Boom Town is kind of like that. Except it's nonfiction. And it's about a Town that only wants to be groß, that thinks itself to be groß, that wills itself groß. Boom! It's kind of like a biography of a town. It's kind of like a nonfic Bildungsroman. Of a town. It's kind of like a nonfic version of those novels whose protag is a loser. Is OKC the Willy Loman of the country?

Also there's like this vibe that reminds me of Vollmann, that empathy, that getting inside another's experience. If Vollmann's characters are those always broken down folks in our gutters it's like this book is about an always broken down town, booming and busting. And Sam can kind of feel like what that's like, especially the busting part. Does a town feel pain, suffer?

And basketball. Get me reading what you write about sports and you know you've got a talented writer on your hands.

Also, I.M. Pei gets a cameo.

oh oh oh and one more thing while we are on the topic of city planning ; read this and read it's fictional counterpart :: Geometry in the Dust.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 11 books1,323 followers
December 27, 2018
How is this book not on every "best of 2018" list for non-fiction? So fun, so well-written, so fascinating (I listened to it on audiobook--great listen as well). The majority of my family is from Oklahoma, and that's what compelled me to pick up the book but I would've loved this anyway, regardless of any connection. I love sports but hate the NBA but the Thunder storyline is so fantastically woven into the overall narrative I was completely hooked. The author tackles the founding of the city, the booms, the busts, racism and segregation, the OKC bombing (e.g. basically the main thing the city is known for), among other things. What a weird little place (in the best way possible) and the author really brings it to life with smarts and humor.
Profile Image for Uriel Perez.
108 reviews33 followers
August 2, 2018
This is a stunningly good piece of civic history here. Sam Anderson does the impossible and makes the arid, droll landscape of Oklahoma City explode with intrigue. ‘Boom Town’ is a wonderful mix of basketball reportage, frontier history and expose of a city in flyover country that really deserves a second look.
Profile Image for Patrick J.
27 reviews
January 21, 2022
Boom Town? More like Broom Town because wowza did this book sweep me off my feet. This book does a great job of solidifying Tulsa as the best city in Oklahoma. Go Jags.


Gossip Pat
Profile Image for Hank.
765 reviews68 followers
February 15, 2021
A book about Oklahoma City, just as the title suggests, unfortunately this is mostly a book about the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is a basketball team, which I have very little interest in. There were some fascinating and entertaining stories about OKC that I did like....the land rush, the failed urban renewal project, some of Wayne Coyne but the main glue that held the book together was a very in depth discussion of the Thunder and the Thunder players. That could work for some but it just did not for me.
Profile Image for Corinne Colbert.
190 reviews4 followers
April 30, 2022
Both my daughter and one of my very best friends recommended this book to me. My friend even stated that she was very surprised by it and it was the best book she read in 2019. I had a lot of things running through my mind as I was listening to this book that I've really had to think on it and what I wanted to say. I am from Oklahoma and have lived almost the entirety of my life on the outside edge of Oklahoma City, the first half on the east side, the second half on the southwest side. There is a lot of information in this book about my home. A lot to digest.

I live here, and everything Sam Anderson says is true. The federal government forced tribal people from their ancestral homes and into the center of the country, Indian Territory, promising that the Native people will be left alone if they just cooperate and go. We all know what happens next. Not much later, 1889, the city we know as Oklahoma City literally rises from the dust in one afternoon. No other city, I'm sure, has such a Genesis. One day there was nothing, the next, something.

Boom Town is a parallel history of the birth and growth of Oklahoma City and our beloved professional basketball team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mr Anderson leaves nothing out. He includes our shameful history as well as everything we have to be proud of, our prejudices and social injustices as well as our visionaries and leaders that forced us into good despite our best efforts to be assholes. We Oklahomans stomp our feet and throw tantrums when someone thinks they know better than us or tries to tell us what to do. An almost absurd number of decisions have been made for the reason of I-don't-have-to-do-what-you-say that have had devastating consequences. But that doesn't make us bad. It doesn't make us stupid.

He reminds us of our goodness too. Clara Luper and her lunch counter sit ins teaching children to bravely stand up to racial injustice. We had a bomb. A terrible bomb that murdered 168 people. We didn't do that. Someone did that to us. We rose up out of the dust again. We live in a cauldron that brews apocalyptic storms with cataclysmic damage, but Gary England and his team of meteorologists have saved millions of lives, and countless Oklahomans rise up from the dust again, every time, giving everything they have to help their neighbor. And even our revered basketball players are out working shoulder to shoulder with their fans, digging through the remains of peoples homes, their lives, or giving financially when they can. Oklahomans want to be good.

Mr Anderson also tells the story of our team, and how we got the Oklahoma City Thunder is another story of I-don't-have-to-do-to-what-you-say. The NBA said on more than one occasion that we couldn't have a team. Guess what. We have one. And it's good. Mr Anderson reminds us how our team gets so close to only fall short so. many. painful. times. He tells of the homecoming after our loss in the NBA finals. I was there. They were our sports heroes. And they broke our hearts. Kevin broke our hearts. Russell healed us.

Boom Town is a book about people who make very human choices. Our story is only geographically unique. I only ask you don't judge us for our worst days, because we have so so many good days.
Profile Image for Andrea.
953 reviews16 followers
August 15, 2019
I have a connection to Oklahoma City-- my parents are from there and I lived there for part of my childhood. I might have passed this by (and the author, in the into suggests that this book might not be for you) but thought I'd give it a shot via audio and if I didn't like it, I could abandon it.

I'm glad I kept on. There was a lot I was familiar with (the celebration of the land grab on April 22, when I was a kid, downtown? what downtown?, Enterprise Square USA) and a fair amount I wasn't (I'm not a Thunder fan, but this was more entertaining to read about than I would have thought).

Sam Anderson is fair in his report on OKC-- it's not condescending but it does question the prevalent Good Ole Boy network that's always been there. He seamlessly connects various storylines that don't seem connected but create the crazy quilt that is OKC. At times it was a little like Drunk History, which is a big compliment.

A surprisingly delightful trip down memory lane!
Profile Image for anklecemetery.
379 reviews19 followers
March 2, 2021
This book was utterly bananas. I'm not a sports person, but I was completely engrossed in the way Anderson wove together all of his narrative threads; he made civics, history, basketball, and the weather into a story I could not put down.

His writing is simultaneously funny and poignant; in one chapter, he describes the reverence of opening a time capsule, or the way survivors of a tornado thanked their local weatherman, and follows it up with a description of a basketball game that includes the line, "but in this situation, he had the peripheral vision of a cyclops looking down a cardboard paper towel tube." It's evocative. I've told about eight other people to read it, and I'm sure I will suggest it to many more.
Profile Image for vanessa.
958 reviews151 followers
February 10, 2019
Overall a really amusing book... Definitely can recommend as an audiobook (narrated by the author). It's part history, sports recap, and anecdotal life in Oklahoma City. Anderson tells readers of OKC's land run days, its eagerness to grow as a metropolis (good luck with that), its civil rights movement, the Oklahoma City bombing, disastrous tornadoes and the weathermen who follow them, and of course: Thunder basketball. He focuses on the humor and irony and weirdness of Oklahoma City, so you will giggle. Some aspects are more entertaining/enlightening than others and it's also a long book that could've been shorter. But I enjoyed the majority of it.
Profile Image for Bethany.
8 reviews
January 27, 2019
The 5-star rating may be a little biased considering I’m a lifelong Oklahoma resident, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author covers all the big events/themes in OKC history - the Land Run, the oil booms & busts, Clara Luper & the civil rights movement, the OKC bombing, the Thunder, the tornado tragedies - and also touches on really interesting small details. I found myself both laughing out loud and crying at different points, and I found it really interesting to see decades of chaotic OKC history woven together in one narrative. Would recommend!
Profile Image for Campbell.
48 reviews
May 28, 2020
I initially picked up this book to ease my nagging nostalgia for my time in OKC, expecting to be mildly bored by the chapters dedicated to the Thunder, but instead, I got a witty, touching, and informative look into middle America, perfectly blending past and present with foreshadowing to the future. Anderson skillfully captures the absurdity of this weird little city with a nod to its inexplicable charm. This book is definitely for you if you are interested in the NBA, the Flaming Lips, urban planning, or racist cowboys, but I daresay it is still for you if you care about none of those things! A great read if like me you've ever been curious about the dead center of the country and want to learn more about the state that brought us Tiger King, but unlike me don't actually want to move there. I cried when it was over which was a nice reminder that while I might have left, I am still rooting for this Boom Town 1500 miles away!
Profile Image for Trike.
1,396 reviews148 followers
November 20, 2018
Oklahoma City has a crazy history. Crazier than most cities. From its birth during the Oklahoma Land Run through its lawless Wild West days continuing through booms and busts and failed urban renewal to the Murrah building bombing and the area’s insane tornado weather, it’s been one crazy rollercoaster ride. If this were the backstory of a sci-fi book no one would buy into it because it’s so completely absurd.

For instance, the bit about the “purloined basketball team” refers to the OKC Thunder, who used to be the Seattle SuperSonics. OKC businessmen straight-up stole the team legally by buying them and then making demands of Seattle they knew the citizens of Washington wouldn’t agree to, like building a new half-billion-dollar stadium.

Which is fitting, since back in the 1960s Seattle-based Boeing was developing a supersonic airplane and they needed a city to test the effects of sonic booms on the population underneath the flight path, so the Oklahoma City town council (in cahoots with local business leaders) volunteered. To be part of the future!

The US government then started overflying OKC with their latest jets, causing sonic booms. Many, many booms. Which exploded windows, caused plaster ceilings to collapse, drove animals literally insane and chickens to their deaths from the stress. After two weeks the citizens begged them to stop. The guys in charge listened to their petitions and looked at all the property damage being done, not to mention the terrible side effects to everyone’s health from the booms themselves but also from the stress, and they said, “No.”

The flights were increased and went on for over six months.

Boeing, the US government and OKC’s prominent businessmen essentially tortured everyone for months on end, only to have the plan for supersonic jet travel over the United States scrapped.

...and then they did it some more. 😂

I can’t even imagine the lawsuits that would happen today if they tried something like that. People wonder why we are such a litigious country. Probably because of little things like people being injured by their ceilings caving in on them due to a fighter jet roaring by 5 miles overhead.

This isn’t even the craziest thing that happened in the city’s history.

This took me a long time to read because I kept stopping to look stuff up. All the descriptions of the Land Run sounded exactly like the scene from the Ron Howard movie Far and Away (the one where Tom Cruise has a terrible Irish accent). So I watched that scene again: https://youtu.be/yxaJY8UZxn4

When he talks about the two shady organizations holding their own elections and staking out the city on day two of its founding, I went over Google Maps to see what those streets look like today, and you *can* still see where they had to inexpertly match up the two layouts. Then I got sucked into Street View, looking at all the places he references.

As he talks about the OKC Thunder playing, especially when it featured the heyday of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, I watched highlight films: https://youtu.be/sCUwuSwmcck

When he talked about the opening of the 1913-2013 Century Chest time capsule, I watched numerous videos of it: https://youtu.be/NydcQGo8wF0 Then I went to the OKC historical society page to look at the stuff: https://www.okhistory.org/centurychest/

I read all of the “prophecies” that the city leaders of 1913 wrote, which included this rather amazing prognostication by a prominent banker:

This letter will not interrupt the opening of your morning mail for the very good reason that you will have no morning mail, or not much. Your distant correspondence will be conducted instantaneously by electrical means all through business hours and only letters with document enclosures will come to you by the slower-moving mails.

He gets other things wrong, but he’s talking about email and e-commerce. For a guy living in 1913 when they don’t even have radio yet, that’s incredible.

The story of civil rights activist Clara Luper sent me on a quest to learn more about this amazing woman, who staged patient, good-humored sit-ins for six years: https://youtu.be/bXMOJjDrIuQ

When we get into the tornadoes of Oklahoma, especially the devastating ones which hit Moore in both 1999 and 2013, as well as the El Reno tornado, I went down the rabbit hole of watching hours of storm footage on YouTube: https://youtu.be/nWB7Edw-bCA

...and so on.

I visited OKC in 1984 and I can not recall a single thing about that town. Now I know it’s because of their disastrous attempt at urban renewal, which led to them essentially bulldozing half the city, including most of their landmark buildings. The amount of federal tax dollars which have gone into propping up OKC for the past 130 years is sickening. Anderson doesn’t make that a feature of the book, casually mentioning it here and there, but it’s safe to say OKC would have ceased to exist without liberal blue states sending hundreds of millions of dollars to this deeply conservative area over the decades.

Oklahoma stole the land from the Native Americans, and it’s still stealing from the rest of America to this day.

Seriously, this is one crazy, dysfunctional city.
Profile Image for Belston Campfield.
Author 1 book62 followers
November 28, 2021
The book is entertaining and I learned a lot about Oklahoma City. Sam did a great job. If you like basketball, you may also enjoy the book as every other chapter follows the evolution of the city's NBA team, The Thunder, under Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Having lived in Texas myself and learning a lot firsthand about the energy industry, it was also interesting to learn about the weird and often painful evolution of a city so dependent on drilling and fracking. And I finally learned what an Oklahoma "Sooner" is. Great read.
Profile Image for Jon Barr.
566 reviews8 followers
September 12, 2019
Brilliant look at the city I get to live in, the basketball team I get to watch and the people and places surrounding them.
Profile Image for Carleigh Foutch.
38 reviews5 followers
January 10, 2021
What better time to finally crack this book open after I’ve moved from OKC to Tulsa, right? I’ll admit, after reading the first couple of chapters, I looked over at my husband and exclaimed, “Ugh, I think this is a sports book!”

I lived in OKC for three years, and unlike many of its other citizens, I have never quite understood the hype surrounding the Thunder. Sure, I’ve been to my fair share of games and have largely enjoyed them, but I just never caught “Thunder fever”, as it were. However, after reading this book, I have an entirely new perspective about the city that I lived in and still love. After coming to understand the history of this strange place, I’m honestly floored that it’s flourishing as well as it is. Born out of chaos, OKC is one of the last places many think of stopping in, let alone living in. Still, I know firsthand how its people are filled with resilience, kindness, and, above all, hope. There is nothing more Oklahoman—and, in turn, American—to me than enduring a bust in hopes that whatever’s around the corner is going to be better and bring you the endless wealth you were promised when things boom once more. OKC has a contagious spirit and I enjoyed reading about the city’s history - most of which I knew nothing about!

I thought Anderson did a pretty good job of including the city’s non-white heroes, like Clara Luper, Ralph Ellison, and Jabee. However, I wish that he could’ve spent more time on the populations of OKC that seem to always fall to the wayside. OKC has an extremely large Vietnamese community and they were very absent from the story. I would’ve loved to read more about that (because admittedly I don’t know much!) And while I do appreciate Anderson’s inclusion of POC stories in the book, it was a stark reminder that the “booming” spirit of Oklahoma was created by and for white men, despite the state’s diverse population. Perhaps the booms of the future will be more inclusive of all Oklahoma Citians.

I hope every person in OKC gets a chance to read this book, if not for the wild tales and triumphs, then just to simply read my favorite sentence of all time: “Outside, the Oklahoma wind was an ice harpy shrieking through the streets, punishing all humans for the crime of having skin.” I loved every page (including the basketball ones)!
Profile Image for Molly.
59 reviews6 followers
February 16, 2019
What a fucking trip. Living in Oklahoma City definitely fertilizes the soil here, but I think I might've loved this book even if I didn't. Sam Anderson's writing is bright, conspiratorial, and funny; it's snarky but not mean, personal but not self-centered. He tells the story of Oklahoma City, from its bizarre artificially inseminated birth to its sleek new basketball franchise. The Thunder, in fact, consume about half the book; perhaps it's more accurate to say that this book intertwines the history of the Thunder with that of the city who love them.

Anderson's book really illustrates the difference between history that recounts the facts and history that constructs a narrative. He loves to make bold, even far-fetched, suggestions about links and maybe-more-than-coincidences between OKC's history and its present; he loves to note events that share an anniversary or a birthday, implying fate or subconscious resonance. His broad framework for understanding the city, though, is shockingly persuasive: that the city operates on a philosophy of "boom or bust," that in spite of its conservatism, it can never resist a roll of the dice, that the dream of impossible greatness, however remote, is worth gambling everything. The city booms, and it busts—from its chaotic roots to its oil investments to the bombing in 1995 and beyond.

The boom/bust pattern is, unsurprisingly, almost completely the work of men. Men rule Oklahoma City, and have always ruled it. The one exception, though, is worth mentioning here: Clara Luper, who was a history teacher for many years and became a leading figure in the Civil Rights movement. She led her students in a crusade to desegregate Oklahoma City's restaurants using sit-in protests that preceded the Greensboro sit-ins by a full two years—and she was successful, too. She remained a looming, and luminous, figure in Oklahoma City well into the 21st century. I'm adding her celebrated autobiography, Behold The Walls, to my list.
Profile Image for Cat Duffy.
205 reviews37 followers
July 24, 2020
Boom Town is a narrative non-fiction book about the history of Oklahoma City and its NBA team, the Oklahoma Thunder (or Zombie Sonics if you’re from Seattle). It is an incredibly engaging book that does a really good job of interweaving the history of Oklahoma City with the rise and fall of its professional basketball team -- both of which are truly wild sagas. There are so many things I learned that shocked the hell out of me, ranging from OKC’s experiment with sonic flight (what an insane colossal failure!!) to the connection between OKC and The Flaming Lips frontman, Wayne Coyne. I became obsessed with Gary England, OKC’s foremost weather expert during the chapters about the history of truly devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma and the evolution of storm forecasting.
It’s a sign of truly great writing when you are emotionally invested in a story when you already know the ending. And let me tell you what, my heart was POUNDING during the chapters about the Oklahoma City Bombing even though I fully knew what tragedy lay ahead. All of this is to say, Sam Anderson wrote a great book and it will appeal to you regardless of whether or not you like history books or basketball or Oklahoma City. Even if you think you’re not a non-fiction person, I highly recommend giving it a chance.
Profile Image for J.
51 reviews
March 31, 2019
A totally compelling look at a relatively young boom-or-bust American city. Brilliantly written and structured. I'm really in awe of this book.
26 reviews
February 26, 2020
This is one of my absolute favorite books ever. I’ve lived in Oklahoma and I learned a lot about the state and OKC! This is an honest look at what’s great (and what’s not) about “The City”.
Profile Image for Rodney.
166 reviews
February 20, 2021
My first memories of downtown Oklahoma City were in May 1996, when Bricktown was a decimated wasteland. I went to a semi-legal warehouse rave (there were lots of them in Bricktown at the time), and the things that stand out were seeing a line of people passed out by a nitrous tank, hearing gunshots and a man screaming from an empty building on my way back to the freeway, and, once I arrived home in Norman, learning that the employees of a record store near campus found a severed head in a dumpster. None of these things seemed so terrifying to me in my invincible late teens, however--just part of the swirl of strangeness that defined the metro-OKC area at the time. The Murrah bombing seemed to me a million years in the past (although it was barely a year), and I thought downtown had always been a collection of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

OKC is a hard city to love, yet I haven’t been able to stop loving it even though I’ve been gone for fifteen years now. I thought Boom Town did a fair job of capturing some of its essence, but the truth is no two people live in the same city, so it couldn’t have been a portrait of the city I fell in love with in its pre-renaissance shambles: pho restaurants, taquerias, flea markets, broke college kids living in dilapidated half-a-mansion duplexes, the unremodeled Sears on S. Western that made me feel like I’d stepped back to 1964, going to a party at the house of the owner of my local bar and seeing in the bathroom the taxidermied body of what was apparently history’s greatest fighting rooster--these are all experiences individual to me and I couldn’t have expected them to appear in the book. But I did, somehow. I’m addicted to urban histories for this reason, they can provide a framework of Things That Happened There, but they can only hint at What ‘There’ Means.

Unlike Anderson, though, the Oklahoma City I knew and know has nothing to do with the Thunder, and I don’t see them as any sort of metaphor for its history. They’re just something that happened. I will say, though, that the Thunder sections of the book (comprising about half) are the best-written parts. Anderson is a sports writer, and a good one. He captures the personalities and action on the court very well. But his view of OKC is always outsider-ish. Like, he’s immersed enough to know to go to the Red Cup with Wayne Coyne, but not enough to know that a table of hangers-on hanging on to Wayne’s every inane pronouncement is a familiar OKC sight. For once, I’d love to read something about the city that has nothing to do with Wayne Coyne.

If you subtract Wayne and a bunch of millionaire athletes, what you’re left with is a thin overview of Things That Happened There, and it’s often very well-written. My favorite part is the chapter in which he retraces the Land Run by walking from Choctaw to OKC via NE 23rd St. That was the one chapter in which the city I know came alive and it got to the What ‘There’ Means. It’s a hubristic journey (and not an especially safe one), and there’s really nothing much there but people living their lives in a run-down, unglamourous, steeply-decayed urban sprawl with the people they love, but that’s a much better portrait of the city than a basketball team is.
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