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Book Review – Killers of the Flower Moon

nonfict_grann_killers_seal-600The concept of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, was almost too depressing for me to start. Telling the history of the systematic murders of the Osage Indian Nation, a story that is promised to have little closure or justice, I had to force myself through the first twenty pages.

I’m glad I continued on, however, as the book became a compelling read, spanning multiple subjects while never losing focus on it’s depressing main topic. The Osage Indian Nation, through the government’s orders, are moved to a desolated land in Oklahoma. To everyone’s surprise, their new home is one of the richest deposits of oil and the Osage become wealthier than White America is comfortable with. In fact, the government tries to control the flow of money that each Osage receives, appointing them “guardians” who give them their allowances, fractions of their millions. It should be no surprise, that when the murders begin, little is done about them.

At first, it seems like every Osage murder is going unsolved and unpunished. Local authorities are either incompetent or apathetic to what’s happening around them. But, eventually, the news of what is happening starts to spread across the country. White men start getting murdered from trying to help. The Osage murders get more brutal and public, as well as obvious in their intent. Once the young FBI gets involved, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to steal the Osage wealth.

Killers of the Flower Moon is half the history of Osage and half the story of the FBI. Reading this after watching Netflix’s Mindhunter had me amazed by how we take for granted simple terms and methods in law enforcement. While Mindhunter showed us how new the understanding of criminal profiling was, this book goes even further back and shows us simple detective skills still being born. Mug shots, fingerprints and keeping the crime scene from becoming contaminated were either just starting to be used or unheard of altogether.

It doesn’t help that the FBI and many branches of law are filled with corrupt employees. Crimes are being covered up or ignored by bribes and threats. Judges are on the take and prisons are a mess. J. Edgar Hoover is out to make a name for himself by cleaning up the FBI and solving the cases of the Osage murders. He sets Tom White out to form a team and take care of business and from there we learn the twists and turns of this dark history.

It was fascinating to me how well Grann kept this moving and held my attention. The subject matter is morbid and new to many readers but it’s still non-fiction and could have come across as a text book. Yet, Grann writes it like a thriller and even had my jaw drop after a revelation midway through the book. We get looks into everyone’s past, from the Osage whose grim fates are only the newest forms of abuse to White’s childhood and sense of honor. Every topic gets explored and explained in a digestible manner.

After reading this, I definitely want to pick up Grann’s other book, The Lost City of Z. I tend not to read many history books, but Grann does a great job at holding interest and moving the story forward. With Killers of the Flower Moon, you know things won’t be solved in a satisfying manner and that people will go unpunished. That’s not to mention how hindsight kept me from feeling any sense of victory even when things start to turn around for the Osage. You don’t have to be well-versed in history to know this will only be another stepping stone in the injustice Native Americans will go through, even in the 1900s.

Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t for everyone, some might not have the stomach for the hopelessness of it all. But, it’s a story every American should be familiar with, despite how little has been told about the subject. With talks of a movie being made, hopefully more will have to reckon with this dark past. If you can handle the darkness, pick up the book beforehand.

Book Review – Console Wars

18505802Books on the history of gaming are culturally important to my own life. Genealogically, I’m a mutt with little foundation. My family and myself have no real traditions or history we share beyond our own generation or two. I’m Italian but I don’t have a a deep identity in it. But, as a gamer, I have a history, music, traditions and my own self-perception is very much rooted in tabletop and video games.

When I read a book like Console Wars, it’s partly me accepting that this culture is bigger than myself and there’s elements to learn about. I felt that connection when reading Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, that this part of my life has been going on for longer than I’ve been around and there’s names and history that are important to it all.

Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars taps into that, except this was a history I experienced. Harris follows the war between Nintendo and Sega; how Sega fought for and won it’s place in the market and how Nintendo fought back. Both companies make mistakes along the way, sealing certain fates for themselves.

One factor that makes this book fascinating is it’s focus on the differences between the Japanese and American sides of each company. While Nintendo was more focused on having like-minds, Sega was much more divided. Sega of Japan rarely agreed with SOA and these arguments and differences would prove to be the companies downfall. Even with Sega earning it’s place in the market, it’s lack of strong leadership would have it go on to follow the success of the Genesis with multiple consoles with little individual identity.

Nintendo, on the other hand, had a direct and strong hand when it came to it’s leadership. So much so that some employees began to chafe against the lack of freedom. Whereas Sega of America was throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck, Nintendo was nailing their decisions to the plaster, even as the wall was crumbling to the floor. The desire to avoid direct competition due to tradition and lack of respect for it’s rivals led Nintendo to lose a few loyal employees, but also to the creation of Donkey Kong Country and Rare’s rise as a second party. It also was responsible for the Super Mario Bros. movie and stabbing Sony in the back when it came to CD technology, so not all good things.

The book is written in prose, using the facts and history to tell more of story than real life might have been. The dialog is where this technique is a hit-or-miss, but the rest of the book is a compelling read, with great insights into the two companies and their respective employees. This style might not be for everyone, but if you’ve read the aforementioned Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, you’ll be right at home. This isn’t the text book tome that was David Sheff’s excellent Game Over, it’s edutainment and a turn pager.

Reading about Sega’s marketing plans, Nintendo’s resistance to fire back, Sony’s frustrations with entering the market and the whole industries growth is highly entertaining. There’s a lot of egos on display and hindsight gives the reader a one-up on the players in this book. The most frustrating part of this book, for myself, is that it ends just as things are getting really juicy. The Sony Playstation has just entered the market, Nintendo is about to release their 64-bit console and we all know what happened to Sega soon after. I wanted an account of the next war, of the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft getting ready to enter the fray.

But Console Wars is a dense book as it is and I’m sure someone is preparing a book on the stage that followed. If you’re interested in the history of video games, Japanese business practices, the thought process of marketing, 90s culture and the whole Sega vs. Nintendo fight, I highly recommend this book. You might have to get past any hangups over the style of writing, but, once you do, you’ll find this to be a great resource.