INDECENT ADVANCES

A HIDDEN HISTORY OF TRUE CRIME AND PREJUDICE BEFORE STONEWALL

An enlighteningly provocative cultural history.

A cultural historian examines true-crime stories from the early- and mid-20th-century press to recover a little-discussed history of violence against gay men.

“Queer history,” writes Polchin (Liberal Studies/New York Univ.), “has often focused on narratives of progress in which sexual minorities prosper despite the social injuries done to them.” In his first book the author takes a different tack, analyzing true-crime newspaper narratives to understand how the American press “shaped ideas of morality and immorality” about gay men. He begins around 1920, when the Justice Department grouped homosexuals with political subversives and a medical establishment steeped in Freudian theory promoted ideas about “homosexual panic (panic due to the pressure of uncontrollable perverse sexual cravings),” which later evolved into an in-court defense used by (straight) men charged with murder or assault. In the meantime, queer crime stories offered readers glimpses into a salacious demimonde. In the 1930s, increasingly sensationalized queer crime stories embodied what Polchin posits were emergent fears about sexual psychopaths. This led to gay men being arrested on minor charges and enduring “forced psychological treatments meant to control and cure abnormal sexual desires.” By the 1940s, the trope of segregation began to emerge in queer crime accounts. Accounts of black men injured by male companions “rarely made headlines beyond the African-American press.” By the 1950s, homosexual panic was officially listed as a psychological disorder in the first edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which was largely influenced by a guidebook assembled by the military. Yet on the edges of this oppressively homophobic world, LGBT artists like photographer Carl Van Vechten observed the suffering of queer men and filled scrapbooks with gay crime news stories meant to serve as an “unofficial history of queer life in mid-century America.” Thoughtful, accessible and well-researched, Polchin’s book offers useful insight into some of the lesser-known cultural currents that gave rise to the gay rights movement.

An enlighteningly provocative cultural history.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-189-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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.

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • National Book Award Finalist

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

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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