Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Literally the Best Reviews: Homegrown

Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh & the Rise of Right Wing Extremism
-- Jeffrey Toobin
Simon & Schuster
426 Pages

Being a local history guy, I often find myself gravitating towards history books that have a local connection. I read the newest books on Love Canal, the biography of Medal of Honor recipient Frank Gaffney, and now the story of Timothy McVeigh. This is still, nearly thirty years after the events, a tough one for people in the area to swallow. We don’t really want to acknowledge it, nor do we want to forget it. Still, I had to read it, although I wasn’t sure I was going to review it.

There’s always a little something extra when you know some of the people the book mentions. While I did not know Timothy McVeigh and never met him, I knew his sister for a very short time in junior high school, and then again in classes at NCCC. I would not say I was friends with her, but I knew her enough to say hello when we saw each other outside of the classroom. Additionally, other classmates were mentioned in the book as witnesses during the trial.

Jeffrey Toobin’s Homegrown is supposed to connect the current right-wing extremism with McVeigh’s heinous act of bombing the Federal building in Oklahoma City. In that matter, Toobin fails. His connections are tenuous at best, and are seemingly afterthoughts at the end of each chapter. He tries too hard, but offers very little evidence beyond offering his personal opinion on the subject rather than any hard evidence. That does not mean there isn’t a connection. Toobin just falls short, substituting feelings for facts.

However, that does not mean this book isn’t good. In fact, this is a great retelling of some of the story in the lead up to the bombing. Toobin writes with an ease and succinctness that will secure the concentration of even the most casual of readers. Toobin very matter-of-factly details the narrative of McVeigh’s life, from his earliest days to his last.

Toobin has the benefit of time with his book. It’s been nearly three decades since those events, and much more information is available for researchers. Some of the earlier books are filled with supposition and fresh anger. As the years have passed, the story has matured beyond the raw emotion of the day, although there will always be anger.

People always say that “it can’t happen where I live.” We are steadfast in this opinion, and find ourselves in abject shock when the world comes to town. We saw it again when the Buffalo Tops massacre occurred. Reading this book brought all that doubt, shock, and anxiety rushing back. We should be taking lessons from this in order to prevent other senseless tragedies. Instead, over the last three decades, we have further isolated ourselves, slowly losing touch with other human beings. What gets lost is compassion. We need to regain compassion and civility. Caring is a strength. Never let anger consume you.

Homegrown by Jeffrey Toobin is a dark chapter in our history that cannot be ignored. Toombs’ perspective three decades after the terrible events of April, 1995, serve to be a warning that we have to be better. 

Craig Bacon had a difficult time deciding whether to write this review. While a sensitive subject, he understands that we can’t just ignore it, either.