By Patrick Rooney
“History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind,” as quoted by Edward Gibbon, Author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Sam Anderson stays true to this insight in Boom Town, his recent book about Oklahoma City. While intrigued by what Oklahoma City has become, Mr. Anderson seems determined to highlight its foibles first while often neglecting the city’s strengths altogether. His style is sardonic and often condescending as he cherry picks various episodes about our city’s history. The fact that the book was written at all is a positive, but it seems Anderson can’t quite believe the progress, the determination and the ability to pick ourselves up that makes our city what it is today.
The book begins at the Land run and the founders of “Oklahoma Station” and moves back and forth from early days to the years 2012-2013. All the while noting our boomtown image starting in 1907 where we went from a population of zero to 10,000 people overnight. Anderson takes enjoyment in describing some of our more “colorful” pioneer city leaders, and goes on to discuss the sonic boom agreement of the late 40’s, the tribulations of a young growing city and of course April 19th.
In the chapters on the years 2012-2013, Mr. Anderson concentrates on the Thunder, Wayne Coyne and the weather. And while we get too much of Wayne, we get a detailed history of the Thunder, which unfortunately concentrates on the dilemma surrounding the Harden trade. Mr. Anderson seems to delight in this issue, while neglecting to discuss the Thunder’s role in the city’s resurgence and the team’s success and positive record overall.
I thought some of his best work was on the weather and Gary England. As you might now imagine, Mr. Anderson goes to great lengths highlighting our “Tornado Alley” reputation and the well documented fickleness of the Oklahoma sky. I thought his best line was “most places have one sky, while Oklahoma City has twelve.” Yet, even this humor belies a hyperbole suggesting no other city has stormy weather. Similarly, when covering the tragic 1995 bombing, Anderson skips the positive aspect of Oklahoma City’s famous assistance to the rescue workers, styled shortly after, as “The Oklahoma Standard.”
There are some enjoyable parts of Oklahoma City’s history that make the book redeemable, for those interested. His chapters on Stanley Draper, and his efforts to build the city, and on Clara Looper, and her efforts to integrate it, add much needed historical depth to the work. And after all the bashing, exaggeration, sardonic humor, apologies and so forth, he does call Oklahoma City the “Great Minor City of America.” So, at least we can agree on that.