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Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,675 ratings  ·  303 reviews
From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a "husky Negro" did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. Bu
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Published April 24th 2018 by Penguin Audiobooks
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Diana In order to answer all your questions, we’d have to rewrite the book. I recommend your local library.😊

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Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The truth really is stranger than fiction. When I began reading I made the assumption that I would be reading a true account of a case similar to the one depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird. In other words, a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman in the 1957 Jim Crow south. In this true account, the wife of a powerful citrus grower is actually raped and black men were indiscriminately rounded up and held as suspects without reason. However, days later it is “decided” that the perpetra ...more
The reason I requested this book from my library was because of Megan Abbott's excellent, succinct review, which can be found here:

This is the shocking true story of a mentally challenged white man who was railroaded into confessing to a rape and who was then sent to a state hospital for over 14 years WITH NO TRIAL. It's a story of racism, small town corruption, networks made up of good old boys, and most importantly, a tenacious reporter named Mabel who
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The actual history here is indeed chilling, but King just couldn't help himself when it came to the detail. Every single one--every character, no matter how tangentially related to the case-- is included in this account of how a developmentally delayed teenage boy was wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a woman in 1950s Florida. Yes, this is a story of violence and race, but it's also a story of hundreds of people whose names you will soon forget because they didn't actually contribute all tha ...more
Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This was an unusual case of a white man framed for a rape that was probably committed by a black man. The how and why of the framing was what I wanted to know, but the book took way too long to get to that. Until the end of the book it was bloated with too many extraneous characters and details. Do I really need to know about peach varieties or the temperature at which they will freeze?
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If there was one sentence of dialogue this year that, as a parent, hit me like an electrical jolt down my spine or like ice water injected into my veins, it was a teenager's simple yet heavy question:

"Mommie, are you coming to see me today?"

You see, Jesse Daniels was a guileless, mentally-impaired nineteen year-old living with his shack-dwelling parents in a rural Floridian county. At the time the area populated by high-living citrus barons and the working class in this pre-civil rights era. In
Megan Abbott
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An important, wrenching, movingly told story with all the narrative energy of King's previous book, the unforgettable DEVIL IN THE GROVE. (It's impossible not to fall in love with the crusading reporter Mabel Norris Reese who forms the spine of the book.) Masterfully told, full of heart and pain, and perhaps more vital a book now than ever.
This is not a bad book. It just isn't as good as Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. Sun follows the story of a young disabled boy who is imprisoned for a rape he did not commit because the "scandal" of a well known, respected wife of a man of power by a black man would be too scandalous.

Never fear, King condemns the racism at work in the town as well, and in many ways the story is also the story of the young black men who were also attacked
This was an extremely painful book to read. One knows that such things happen (even today) in America. But it's hard to accept. What made this interesting is the fact that young Jesse wasn't even black. The blacks of those times and the poor whites had so much in common, yet they never seemed to join forces. The poor whites were led to believe that the black were their enemy when it was the rich and powerful.

The other horrible part of the story was the Sheriff. He was truly a horrible man, inhum
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018, history
Another stellar book from Gilbert King. Beneath a Ruthless Sun is the story of Jesse Daniels, who in 1950s rural Florida finds himself accused of the rape of a prominent local woman. Blanche Knowles, the wife of a citrus tycoon was raped and threatened late one night in Okahumpka, Florida. Her description of her abuser led local sheriff Willis McCall to round up every young black man in the county with the expectation of wielding McCall's version of justice on at least one of those men. Despite ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book through a Good Reads "First Reads" Give-away. "Beneath a Ruthless Sun" is a gripping account of a terrible injustice perpetuated by the local sheriff and state's attorney in Lake County, Florida. In December 1957, the wife of a prominent citrus grower and businessman was raped in her home outside of Leesburg. Based on her description of the rapist, the Sheriff's department indiscriminately rounds up over 20 young black men in the hours that follow. Several days later, howev ...more
Linda Yakle
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you haven't read Gilbert King's account of racism in central Florida from the 1940's through the 1970's, do so now. It probably makes more sense to start with his prize winning Devil in the Grove just because he references Groveland in the second book, but it doesn't really matter where you begin because you end up at the same place, a place of disbelief and shame. I grew up in Florida in the 1960's and 1970's, so in addition to the revelations about the depth of racism in my home state, I al ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Pulitzer Prize winning author Gilbert King offers a sobering look into the state of Florida in the 1950s. A wealthy white woman, mother of three, is raped in the dead of night in her own home. It was dark and she stated that a black man was the perpetrator which resulted in dozens of black men hauled to jail for questioning. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff arrests a white, mentally disabled young man for the crime. What really happened?

An ugly story emerges from this bucolic state. A racist sher
Dean Jobb
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a searing indictment of racism and injustice in 1950s Florida. Gilbert King's deeply disturbing, must-read book reveals how corrupt, racist police officers framed a mentally challenged teenager for the rape of the wife of a prominent citrus grower. Jesse Daniels was locked up in an asylum, without trial, for more than a decade before he was exonerated. Perhaps the most compelling character in Beneath a Ruthless Sun is Mabel Norris Reese, the journalist who was instrumental in unravelling ...more
Tracy Miller
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Interesting story but not well told. It would have been better written with more summaries and less quotations. It was hard to keep everyone straight and quoting people who are very inexpressive and obtuse by nature just muddies the waters of the story you are trying to tell. I would have liked to read it as a long form article rather than an entire book.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Captivating account of the railroading of a developmentally disabled man into the horrible Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee for a crime he did not commit, and a comprehensive and thorough expose of the breathtaking corruption of Florida officials, including a sheriff and his deputy, and a state's attorney and judge. I couldn't put it down.
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing and shocking piece of history that everyone should read!!!
Kimberly Lojewski
It's hard to even know how to review this book. It is certainly one of the most disturbing things I have ever read. I live in central Florida. I'm aware of current racial tensions and thought I had some knowledge of the history of racism in the south. And still, my mouth was literally hanging open in parts of the novel. It is that shocking and horrible. And despite how awful it is to know that these things happened, it is so important not to ignore or turn away from them simply because it's too ...more
Julie Derden
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gilbert King has accurately captured the climate - both politically and racially - in Lake County, Florida in the 1950s. He weaves a thriller through his copious research into primary source documents and carries the reader along into a nasty web of lies, deceit, and miscarriage of justice. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove, King introduced most readers to the Central Florida sheriff, judge, jury and executioner, Willis V. McCall. In Beneath a Ruthless Sun, Sheriff McCall and his ...more
Becky Loader
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I had a hard time reading this book, as it deals with a truly horrifying incident. However, that being said, King is the trifecta of authors: excellent research, Outstanding writing style, and attention to detail in presentation. He won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier book, and I can see why.

The state of Florida has been notorious for corruption in government and politics. Sheriff McCall is the epitome of all things bad in such a category. He runs his county with an iron fist, and he takes no p
Christine Mank
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading this most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, yet true story. What is maddeningly is that the victims here are all AMERICANS. And they were the victims of Americans. Americans hating Americans. 

What makes this particularly disturbing is that the monsters here weren't armed robbers or serial killers or pedophiles. No, they were the pillars of the community. 

This is why we cannot tolerate white supremacists! There's never been a white supremacist who's been a decent human being.
Shirley Freeman
Beneath a Ruthless Sun is a true account of horrendous injustice and a relentless reporter seeking the truth. In the late 1950s the state of Florida was one of the strongest resisters to integration and Lake County, FL dug their heels in harder than most. Gilbert King tells the incredible story of how and why two of the most racist men in the world maintained their power, abused and murdered several black men and accused and imprisoned a young, white, mentally challenged young man for a crime he ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Honestly, one of the hardest books I have ever read. The reporting is deep and concise and the writing first-rate. But this story (and, I suspect, the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning title as well) is awash in the vilest, blackest racism this country has ever produced. A few years ago I could have read this story and mentally congratulated my fellow Americans for moving beyond this evil-minded, ignorant hate. That I could not do so while reading this book in the past days left me breathless and ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s difficult to give 5 stars to a book on this topic, but I think it deserves it. I found myself being so angry throughout the book. I was born and raised in DeLand FL (an hour east of Leesburg) from 1948-63. During that time, I was totally unaware of racism going on around us.. partly because of my age, of course.. but also because of our parents who raised us to believe that we are all alike in God’s eyes. We learned by their examples. I never once heard my mom or dad use any racial slurs ev ...more
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Square Books newsletter
This is the type of situation that makes me angry. Good people caught in the machinations of people in authority. Made me think of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona. Just close the case, don't worry about the evidence.
I'll be shaking my head for a long time.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent telling of numerous miscarriages of justice occurring in Lake Count Florida in the mid 20th century. A page turn from start to finish and quite the history lesson.
Douglas Perry
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Following up a Pulitzer Prize-winning book can't be easy. Suddenly there are hefty new expectations to meet.

So Gilbert King, author of the acclaimed "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America," decided to give readers more of the same.

"Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found" is sort of a sequel to "Devil." The villain, once again, is Lake County, Florida's noxious sheriff, Willis McCall. But this time arou
If there's a bigger villain in the annals Florida history than Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, I haven't come across him. Gilbert King returns to McCall in Beneath a Ruthless Sun, a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove. Taken together, the two books present an unforgettable portrait of a ruthless sheriff, who considered himself above the law and was responsible for dozens of beatings and killings by his own hand or those of his deputies, as well as the railroading of innoc ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One night in 1957 in the small village of Okahumpka, Florida a well-to-do young wife and mother was raped in her home. Initially she said her assailant was a 'husky Negro'. But within the next day or so the story changed. Soon thereafter a young learning-disabled local man was arrested and charged for the rape. This book covers the event and aftermath over a fifteen-year period.

There are really three competing storylines here - the plight of Jesse Daniels (the young man), a heroic crusade over t
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoy reading non-fiction, although sometimes it can be dry. This was page turning from the start to the end!

It is the true story about a white 19 year old man, who is mentally impaired, and how he was railroaded into confessing to a rape and consequently sentenced to a state hospital without even the benefit of a trial. It is a story of racism and man's inhumanity to man. It tore at my heart.

This true story is sadly still relevant in today's America. I like to think we have come a long way
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read both of Mr. King's books and in both cases it was hard to believe that such terrible injustices occurred in a county not far from where I now live. I lived a very sheltered life in rural upstate NY so when I read this book it was hard to believe that this happened in the not so distant past. The details that Mr. King put into this book showed a great deal of research. The news reporter, Mabel Norris Reese that was so persistent was an amazing woman as was the mother of Jesse Daniels. ...more
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Gilbert Anthony King is an American writer and photographer.


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“Oldham’s decision disappointed Richard Graham, who had been looking forward to “taking everyone’s dirty underwear out of the closet in a trial.” And Oldham’s statement that should Jesse become involved in another crime, he “would not be so fortunate to be found not guilty by reason of insanity,” offended Graham, as Jesse had been adjudged to be sane. In Graham’s assessment, Oldham had behaved like a coward.” 0 likes
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