Readers looking for the story of Timothy McVeigh or a true-crime narrative in general should look elsewhere: this is exclusively a sociological study. Linenthal (Religion and American Culture/Univ. of Wisconsin; History Wars, 1996, etc.) devotes nothing to the background of the bombing and little on the events themselves. His goal is to describe the intellectual fallout that resulted. And so the author asks: Was the bombing a meaningless act by fringe fanatics? Or was it merely another example of the murderous violence that distinguishes American culture? He collects answers from all over, assembling page after page of quotes. After summarizing their opinions, the author doesn’t add his own but moves on to even more questions. Does the “new threat of domestic terrorism” demand laws that narrow freedom of speech? How did Oklahomans and their religious leaders view God's responsibility for this disaster? Some in this devout, conservative city blamed Satan or a government that kept the Bible out of public schools. Controversy over a proper memorial for the victims persisted until its dedication five years after the blast. Ideas and drawings poured in from across the world. The author apparently feels this is the crux of his study, since half of it he devotes to the debate itself.
Readers searching for a dense analysis of what Americans thought about the Oklahoma City bombing will find it here. Otherwise, eminently skippable.