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Reviews of A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan

A Fever in the Heartland

The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them

by Timothy Egan

A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan X
A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2023, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 4, 2024, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A historical thriller by the Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning author that tells the riveting story of the Klan's rise to power in the 1920s, the cunning con man who drove that rise, and the woman who stopped them.

The Roaring Twenties—the Jazz Age—has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson.

Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he'd become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows – their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman – Madge Oberholtzer – who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees.

A Fever In the Heartland marries a propulsive drama to a powerful and page-turning reckoning with one of the darkest threads in American history.

1.

Birth and Death of the Klan
1866–1872

When white-sheeted nightriders first appeared in the dark Southern night, many people thought they were ghosts. That was the idea: the souls of those who'd died for a republic of slaveholders had returned from their graves. They were out for vengeance, and they were invisible. They burned houses and churches, stole crops and food, dragged men from their farms and whipped them until they fell, ripped teachers from schoolhouses and branded their foreheads, raped women in front of their children, and shot their husbands at point-blank range. During rampages, they often displayed skeletal hands from beneath their robes, rattled chains, or removed fake heads—all to further the scare of a spectral and invincible force. In daylight, they vanished. The morning after a raid, a victim might come across the man who had torched his barn, the clerk at the mercantile store, and know nothing of his role in the nocturnal horror. But they were not ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Egan's research of this nearly 100-year-old story is detailed and he makes the case that the details were imperative to the results. Oberholtzer's death triggered the death of the Klan. The Klan strategy of bribing and influencing rural men triggered boundless fantasies. One of the more ridiculous ones was that the Klan had the political capital, chops and numbers to win the White House and rule the United States...continued

Full Review Members Only (795 words)

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
[A] riveting exposé.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Riveting history…..excellently rendered.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Dramatic twists of fate and vivid character sketches distinguish this harrowing look at a forgotten chapter of American history. It's a certifiable page-turner.

Author Blurb David Grann, author of The Wager and Killers of the Flower Moon
With meticulous detective work, Timothy Egan shines a light on one of the most sinister chapters in American history—how a viciously racist movement, led by a murderous conman, rose to power in the early twentieth century. A Fever in the Heartland is compelling, powerful, and profoundly resonant today.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Sixth Extinction
Timothy Egan's history of the Ku Klux Klan's rise and fall is absolutely gripping. It is also terrifyingly relevant.

Author Blurb Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile
With narrative elan, Egan gives us a riveting saga of how a predatory con man became one of the most powerful people in 1920s America, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, with a plan to rule the country—and how a grisly murder of a woman brought him down. Compelling and chillingly resonant with our own time.

Author Blurb Ken Burns
Egan has done it again, mastering another complicated American story with authority and surprising detail. The Klan here are not the nightriders of the late 19th century, but a retooled special interest group and unusually potent political power. The influence they wielded over states and policy should put a chill in every American. Bravo.

Reader Reviews

Jill

Chilling
This is a chilling and riveting read of the KKK in the 1920’s. A work of narrative nonfiction. Timothy Egan writes a compelling nonfiction excellent book that all should read. I’m sure, this book too will be banned, if not already. The Klan was ...   Read More
Cathryn Conroy

An Extraordinary Book: A Sordid, Scary Slice of History Transformed into a Page-Turning Thriller
This book is terrifying. It is the stuff of nightmares. And it's such an extraordinary and important history book that it should be required reading for everyone. When you think of the Ku Klux Klan, you likely think of the deep South. Think again....   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Women of the Ku Klux Klan

Timothy Egan's book A Fever in the Heartland mentions the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, a group of women who were actively aligned with the mission of the KKK during its 1920s resurgence. In 1923, the WKKK formed in Little Rock, Arkansas. The WKKK had chapters in every state and at least 500,000 members over the course of its existence. There were certain requirements for membership: white, native-born, Protestant. Members believed in the separation of church and state, and that women shouldn't be relegated to only being housewives and mothers.

They also, like their male counterparts, were against racial mixing and thought it was a similar crime to treason. Intermingling, as they put it, was defying the laws of God and man. The Klanswomen'...

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Read-Alikes

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