Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann is, hands down, one of the best books I have read this year. It’s about a series of murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s.
I don’t want to give too much away, because Grann’s storytelling is fantastic–he manages to tell the story in a way that puts you in the middle of it, knowing what the Osage and others trying to solve and stop the murders would have known at the time. But it’s clear from the beginning that the murders have something to do with the “headrights” of the Osage, rights to the oil, gas, and other minerals under their land in Oklahoma. The Osage had been pushed off their original territory by the U.S. government (more than once), and they finally bought this land in Oklahoma that everyone else considered worthless. It turned out that this land held a tremendous amount of oil, and the Osage became extremely wealthy.
Accordingly, they became a target of white people who used all kinds of methods to siphon money away from the Osage, including by passing laws that required almost all Osage to have white guardians to manage their money. Obviously I knew about Native Americans being removed from their land to make way for white settlers, and being moved to land considered less desirable–but frankly I thought this all occurred in the 1800s. I had no idea that tribes were still being treated this way in the 1920s, nor had I ever heard of the financial success of the Osage and the racist attempts to deprive them of this wealth. One reason I liked this book so much is that I learned some important history that I had no clue about.
As the story unfolds, Grann weaves in other key aspects of American history–the oil boom, the beginnings of the FBI, the Teapot Dome scandal, etc. It’s just so interesting. Interesting enough that I might even read it again, which I rarely do with nonfiction. Grann does an excellent job of bringing in these other events without losing the thread of the story of the murders, which is gripping in itself. It’s not a spoiler to say that corruption made it incredibly difficult to find the murderer (or, at least, the main murderer), and that’s an important point in itself. If you have any interest in history, or even just in a good story, I highly recommend this.