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SUMMONED AT MIDNIGHT

A STORY OF RACE AND THE LAST MILITARY EXECUTIONS AT FORT LEAVENWORTH

A compact, engrossing historical meditation with clear relevance to current controversies over race and punishment.

Disconcerting exposé of a little-recalled era of death penalty discrimination in the U.S. military.

Serrano (Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery that Outlived the Civil War, 2013, etc.), a Pulitzer Prize–winning former Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, unearths a disheartening tale of unequal justice during the period between World War II and the major events of the civil rights movement regarding soldiers who received the ultimate sanction for committing rape or murder. Yet once on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth prison, their fates obeyed the color line: “All on death row, white and black, clearly recognized that in the late 1950s, none were treated alike….Eight white soldiers spared, eight black soldiers hanged.” Serrano focuses on the crime and punishment of John Bennett, an uneducated black soldier from impoverished Jim Crow roots, who drunkenly assaulted a young Austrian girl; although she survived, a court-martial swiftly sentenced him to death. After several years, as the backing for capital punishment appeared to wane, he was last on death row, fueling support for commutation of his sentence, as had been done for white soldiers who had committed similar crimes. Over six years of legal battles, his case attracted prominent supporters like psychiatrist Karl Menninger and prison doctors who argued his lifelong epilepsy might’ve influenced the crime. Still, the military’s position remained that Bennett’s death “was necessary.” Because the arc of Bennett’s sad legacy is straightforward, the author builds the narrative in engaging digressions, covering the development of Leavenworth, Dwight Eisenhower’s frosty relationship with desegregation, and the lawyers and activists who mounted a lonely crusade on behalf of the condemned black soldiers. Serrano paces his slim account for maximum suspense, but Bennett’s execution feels increasingly foreordained, particularly when the putatively liberal John F. Kennedy declines to second-guess his predecessor. The author’s scrupulous research ably captures a shameful time during the military’s halting journey toward integration.

A compact, engrossing historical meditation with clear relevance to current controversies over race and punishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8070-6096-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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'
    Best Books Of 2017


  • New York Times Bestseller


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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

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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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