Book discussion: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann,

September 22, 2018 at 5:01 pm (Book clubs, books)

  This past Thursday, AAUW Readers held an exceptionally stimulating discussion of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon. This story of crimes committed against the Osage Indians in the 1920s makes for a riveting, if devastating reading experience. In fact, some in our group felt that evil set forth was so appalling that they had trouble actually getting through the book. Several didn’t. One person said the subject matter was simply too raw; another felt that the writing was only average and didn’t compare well to another outstanding nonfiction title she’d read recently. (The book she was referring to is Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard.) Other readers said they got through Killers of the Flower Moon but with difficulty, mainly because of its depressing subject matter. Still others raced through it, one person having downloaded it late at night and read it straight through till morning! (I wish I had  better recall of how the book affected me upon my initial reading of it early last summer. For my review in this space, click here.)

I’ve rarely attended a book group where the reactions to the title under discussion diverged so widely. That alone heightened the interest of the occasion. In addition, several of us voiced amazement that this story is so little known, as it ties in with the birth of the FBI and the seemingly unstoppable rise of J. Edgar Hoover. As our discussion progressed, several people spoke of their dismay at being presented with such acts of depravity, perpetrated by individuals of no apparent conscience against their fellow human beings, purely for the sake of monetary gain. Isn’t there some remedy for this? seemed to be the anguished subtext. We are certainly not the first people to ask that question.

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
I shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last–far off–at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’, by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1849

And so the suggestion was made that we read something that reflects rather a more hopeful view of mankind. At that point I whipped out my cell phone and  began scrolling through my recent reads. Let’s see… Only To Sleep, The Glass Room, Sunburn, Human Face, Beneath a Ruthless Sun, The Race to Save the Romanovs (not yet reviewed, but we know the awful outcome of that ‘race’). Oh, and Dopesick! Talk about evil!

Surely I can recommend a few titles that are somewhat milder, if not positively uplifting. Marge mentioned Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance – a perfect antidote, I’d say. At any rate, I decided that this question deserves more thought. And this it shall receive, in my next post.
The film version of Killers of the Flower Moon is currently in pre-production. It’s slated to be directed by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring.


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