Today I finished (thanks to my abundant reading time provided by COVID-19) Sam Anderson’s premier book, Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, its Apocalyptic Weather, its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis. (Don’t worry, I’ll just refer to it as Boom Town from here on.)
Before I started this book, I would never have thought that the words “fantastical saga” could ever be used to describe Oklahoma City (OKC). Within the first five pages though, I realized that the crown jewel of America’s reddest state had existed a truly fantastical saga thus far. Anderson’s journey through OKC’s history and culture is a startlingly pleasurable and interesting ride – the mundane become magical, meteorologists become wizards, washed-up pop stars become civic heroes, and the Houston Rockets become abominable villains.
Boom Town tells the story of OKC through several main lenses. There is OKC through the lens of its NBA team, the Thunder (primarily the dominant 2011-2014 Thunder). There is OKC through the lens of its oligarchs and Chamber of Commerce throughout the decades. There is OKC through the lens of civil rights leader Clara Luper and the “east side”. There is OKC through the lens of The Flaming Lips frontman, Wayne Coyne. There is OKC through the lens of weatherman-extraordinaire, Gary England.
Anderson melds all these different OKCs together into a portrait of a city and people that desperately wants to be more than they are. They truly embody the Thunder’s motto: “Fighting for tomorrow, today”. The city was founded on a gamble, and has continued gambling with its future for more than a century. Boom Town is the story of a minor city that wants more than anything to be a major city (or at least, the minor city, America’s minor city), and it will do anything and take any risks to get there.
The story of OKC is equal parts a blueprint and a warning for other minor and/or up-and-coming cities across America. There are dozens of stories of risks that paid of tremendously (fighting to become the state capital, for example), dozens of stories of risks that failed (the great expansion, for example), and dozens of stories of risks that have yet to pan out one way or the other (the trading of James Harden to the Rockets, for example).
More than anything, Boom Town shows the severe and long-lasting impact that individuals can have on their community. One person, with enough brains, grit, planning, or dumb luck can shape the destiny of a whole city without even realizing it. I’m looking at you, Mayor Couch.
Perhaps the biggest praise I can give Boom Town is that it made me – someone who has never watched an NBA game, never played basketball, never cared about it all – deeply interested in the OKC Thunder. Those sections of the book, describing the triumvirate that Harden, Durant, and Westbrook were, were by far some of my favorite portions of this just-over-400-pages read.
Since starting Boom Town, I’ve watched scores of clips from 2012 and 2013 Thunder games. I’ve read articles about Durant and Westrbrook’s compatibility (or lack thereof). I’ve watched slideshows showing the progression of the mythical Harden beard.
If that is not a testament as to the excellence of Anderson’s writing, then I don’t know what is.