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HELL PUT TO SHAME

THE 1921 MURDER FARM MASSACRE AND THE HORROR OF AMERICA'S SECOND SLAVERY

A gripping, memorable work that wholly confronts a hellish past that continues to bleed into the present.

Historical true-crime tale that demonstrates the all-too-real horrors of the peonage system in the American South.

In his latest book, Swift, author of Chesapeake Requiem, Across the Airless Wilds, and Auto Biography, unfurls the heinous acts that took place in 1921 at a Georgia farm known as The Murder Farm, where 11 Black men were found shot, bludgeoned, or drowned at or near the farm. Held by a form of debt slavery known as peonage, these men and others were maliciously killed by the farm’s owner, John Sims Williams, in order to keep secret the unspeakable acts that took place there. As the FBI began searching Williams’ land for evidence of malfeasance, bodies were found in the nearby river tied at the neck to bags of rocks. So began the investigation and trial that brought the dark, then-commonplace racist practices of Georgia’s white citizens into the spotlight of the nation. Swift provides word-for-word accounts from Clyde Manning, the farm boss whom Williams threatened to kill should he not commit the murders, as well as trial transcripts and newspaper reports that clearly show the deeply entrenched racist system that dominated the South in the early 20th century. The author fully exposes the hellscape that enabled peonage to thrive, with hundreds of lynchings and mass murders of Black people by white mobs. “It seems too tranquil a setting for the lessons it offers,” writes Swift about the river where the bodies turned up. “That the past lurks close. That we haven’t learned as much as we think we have. That maybe we never do.” This unflinching narrative will make readers examine not only America’s dark history, but also the disheartening parallels that exist today.

A gripping, memorable work that wholly confronts a hellish past that continues to bleed into the present.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780063265387

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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