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The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory
Synopses & Reviews
A powerful account of the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and how it has affected survivors, local residents, and the nation at large
On April 19, 1995 the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City shook the nation, destroying our complacent sense of safety and sending a community into a tailspin of shock, grief, and bewilderment. Almost as difficult as the bombing itself has been the aftermath, its legacy for Oklahoma City and for the nation, and the struggle to recover from this unprecedented attack.
In The Unfinished Bombing, Edward T. Linenthal explores the many ways Oklahomans and other Americans have tried to grapple with this catastrophe. Working with exclusive access to materials gathered by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Archive and drawing from over 150 personal interviews with family members of those murdered, survivors, rescuers, and many others, Linenthal looks at how the bombing threatened cherished ideas about American innocence, sparked national debate on how to respond to terrorism at home and abroad, and engendered a new "bereaved community" in Oklahoma City itself. Linenthal examines how different stories about the bombing were told through positive narratives of civic renewal and of religious redemption and more negative narratives of toxicity and trauma. He writes about the extraordinary bonds of affection that were created in the wake of the bombing, acts of kindness, empathy, and compassion that existed alongside the toxic legacy of the event.
The Unfinished Bombing offers a compelling look at both the individual and the larger cultural consequences of one of the most searing events in recent American history.
"'Will the prominence of the Oklahoma City bombing be ensured by its location in the nation's official memory?...Will a future terrorist act that inflicts more death consign Oklahoma City to a less prestigious location on the landscape of violence? Or might such an act increase its prestige as the first event in a continuing body of domestic terrorism?'
Those questions appear toward the end of Edward Linenthal's The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory, and I think the only honest answer is that it's too soon to tell. Linenthal couldn't have known, when he wrote those words, that by the time his book arrived in bookstores in October, the Oklahoma City bombing would have already been eclipsed by the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Yet when you read The Unfinished Bombing it's striking just how many parallels there are in the reactions to these attacks and the similarities in their ripple effects." Charles Taylor, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Linenthal brings tremendous sensitivity to his examination of the psychic consequences of the bombing....No book concerning the bombing has so comprehensively addressed the national psyche. This combination of psychological insight and cultural criticism, along with the hopeful assessment of a still-fresh tragedy, will attract a wide audience." Publisher's Weekly
"Linenthal movingly relates the tortuous process of body identification, family notification, grief counseling, and burial ceremonies and then offers a painstakingly detailed account of the memorialization process and its culmination in the choice of a memorial design....A revealing, empathetic analysis that fairly examines this tragic act of terror, the worst on U.S. soil until this September." Library Journal
"An extraordinarily intimate and moving account of the multiplicity of responses to a searing act of violence, The Unfinished Bombing confirms Edward Linenthal's status as one of America's most eloquent and incisive chroniclers of violence, death, memorialization, and contested memory." John Dower, author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War Two, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
"Demonstrating how to combine respect for suffering with searching analysis, Edward Linenthal examines the responses of bereaved family members, survivors, and community leaders in Oklahoma City. Making an honest reckoning with the features of tragedy that push human understanding to — and past — its limits, The Unfinished Bombing provides an unforgettable case study in the strategies human beings create to manage the memory of searing loss. This book deepens the way we think about the misfortunes of the 1995 bombing, as well as the customs and habits of mind of Americans dealing with violence and mortality." Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest and Something in the Soil
"Edward Linenthal is a sensitive interviewer, a keen researcher, and a wonderful writer. In this richly-layered book, he unveils how Oklahomans, and Americans generally, have made competing histories and memories out of a horrifying act of domestic terrorism. This book is a disturbing and moving story of heroism and exploitation, of the nature of grief and the language of memorialization, of the entangled human impulses to remember and forget. It is at once a heartbreaking and brilliant analysis of the character of public memory in America in the media age." David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
About the Author
Edward T. Linenthal is Edward M. Penson Professor of Religion and American Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He is the author of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields and Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum, and co-editor of History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles to Preserve America's Past.
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