An irreverent look at one of the nation’s quirkier cities, “one of the great weirdo cities of the world.”
“In the larger economy of American attention,” writes Anderson, “Oklahoma City’s main job has always been to be ignored.” The author, a winner of a National Magazine Award, seeks to rectify this popular neglect via a rollicking history of the nation’s 27th-largest city. Founded in one day in 1889, Oklahoma City has garnered a reputation for violence (its first mayor died of a gunshot wound), chaotic weather (the first photograph of a tornado was taken there), and grandiose, outsized ambition (its Will Rogers World Airport has no international flights). Anderson helpfully profiles several of the residents and leaders who have given the city its unique character, including civil rights activist Clara Luper, legendary weatherman Gary England, and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. But the book centers on the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. Led by the supremely talented duo of Russell Westbrook (an enigmatic, hellbent-for-leather point guard) and Kevin Durant (a quietly efficient scoring machine), the Thunder reached the Finals in 2012 only to regress in subsequent years, culminating in a heartbreaking defeat in the 2016 playoffs at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, with whom Durant subsequently signed as a free agent. Anderson toggles between recent Thunder seasons and the history of Oklahoma City, portraying the team’s highs and lows as symbols of the town’s boom-and-bust story. Unquestionably, the residents have forged a deep bond with the Thunder. In one of the book’s more touching moments, Anderson interviews an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice who notes how the arrival of the franchise in 2008 helped to heal the figurative wounds inflicted by the terrorist bombing 13 years earlier.
Anderson’s back-and-forth style is challenging, and he has an unfortunate penchant for gratuitous profanity. Nevertheless, he provides an entertaining history of a city that, for all its booms and busts, is never boring.