A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot To Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them

Viking. Apr. 2023. 432p. ISBN 9780735225268. $30. HIST
National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Egan (The Worst Hard Time) exposes a 1920s American political scene filled with characters and themes that resonate today. He unmasks anti-Black, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, fearful, evangelical, hate-filled, resentful, and xenophobic white supremacists desperate to “save” the country. He focuses on David Curtis “D.C.” Stephenson (1891–1966), a magnetic charlatan with Napoleonic visions that included becoming a U.S. senator and more. Twenty-seven chapters document Stephenson’s rise from a Ku Klux Klan recruiter in Evansville, IN (then the country’s most racially segregated city), to Grand Dragon of Indiana, the largest KKK realm ever, with a reputed 400,000 members. Nationally, the KKK included congresspeople, governors, state legislators, county and local officials, police, and more. The book details KKK insider personalities, locally and nationally, along with their corruption, scheming, and squabbling for control, money, and power. The book also chronicles Stephenson’s fall as he approached the apex of power when, in a sensational and noteworthy trial, he was convicted of abducting, raping, and murdering Indiana Department of Public Instruction lending library manager Madge Oberholtzer (1896–1925).
VERDICT Egan’s riveting page-turner offers profound insights to readers willing to peer into layers of American hypocrisy, intolerance, malignant indifference, and public culpability.
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