Books like Killers of the Flower Moon are some of my favorite nonfiction works. David Grann’s books are crackerjack reads, so I’ll gravitate to any authors who also employ novelistic storytelling in nonfiction. By the way, if you haven’t yet read The Wager, get on it! If you love a maritime disaster book like I do, it’s a DOOZY. Plus, Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio have already acquired the film rights, so it’s looking to get the same prestige treatment as Killers of the Flower Moon.
It isn’t just the cinematic storytelling that makes Killers great. For better or worse, I am compelled by true crime stories. In my meager defense, I mostly read ones that illuminate social issues rather than simply recounting salacious stories. It’s no secret that the history of the Indigenous peoples in North America is vastly overlooked and under-taught. And countering that requires educating oneself. True crime books can deliver these histories alongside a gripping narrative, and that really works for me.
In compiling readalikes for Killers of the Flower Moon, I focused on historical true crime. Many of the books deal with Indigenous history as well as contemporary issues for Indigenous people in the United States. Other books focus on other overlooked chapters of history, such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and early Asian American history. Naturally, there are plenty of really gripping yarns among these. Read through them and decide which deserve a cinematic adaptation worthy of Oscar buzz.
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
This is the lone work of fiction on this list. This historical novel predates Killers of the Flower Moon, creating a fictional story that still has an underpinning of the historical facts presented in Killers. It’s a perfect companion book because the work is infused with Native spirituality and emotional storytelling. These aspects provide additional points of connection to the story of what the Osage people endured during the oil boom on their lands.
The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott
Get ready to be shocked by the twists in this story about a bootlegger named George Remus, who once owned 35% of the alcohol in the United States during Prohibition. Thirty-five percent! The prosecutor, determined to take down Remus, sent an investigator after him. And that guy fell in love with Remus’ wife. Then, the two of them hatch a plot that balloons up to the highest echelons of the government.
If you’re interested in learning about what justice looks like to different groups of people, this is a well-researched story about a crime from 1722. When colonial fur traders assaulted a Seneca hunter, the divide between the Indigenous and colonial justice systems comes into stark relief. While this story isn’t as rip-roaring as some of the others, its original scholarship and keen observations earned it a Pulitzer prize.
I personally did not know the extent of the racial violence against Chinese Americans in the 19th century until I read Linda Sue Park’s stellar Prairie Lotus. The Chinatown War delves into life in Los Angeles in the wake of the gold boom. The clashes among Chinese community associations, paired with mounting racist resentment from white Angelenos, exploded in a riot that led to lynchings. As racism continues to plague both Los Angeles and the world in general, it’s important to understand how these tragedies happen and affect communities into the present day.
The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country by Steve Hendricks
The author of this book sued the FBI to gain access to the documents needed to report on the story of the 1976 death of Anna Mae Aquash. The FBI declared she had frozen to death, but an exhumation revealed a fatal bullet wound. This book uses this case to delve into the FBI’s historical efforts to suppress Indigenous activism. If you enjoy fast-paced nonfiction written by a tenacious researcher, this is a great choice.
Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, America’s Black Wall Street by Victor Luckerson
Perhaps the HBO adaptation of Watchmen introduced you to the Tulsa Race Massacre. This book spins a multigenerational saga about survivors of that massacre and their descendants. This breathtaking account shows how both individual racists and systemically racist government policies have continued to affect people from Tulsa’s Greenwood district.
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by Nicholas Black Elk and John G. Neihardt
Nonfiction books like Killers of the Flower Moon might research the stories of Indigenous people, and historical novels can bring imagination and life to that research. Still, it’s also important to get firsthand accounts of history. Black Elk was a medicine man from the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux in 1930 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He witnessed broken treaties and violence from the U.S. military and spent his life dedicated to healing. This is especially good counter-programming if most of your ideas about 19th-century South Dakota came from the Little House on the Prairie books.
Many bleak chapters of American history have gone into the memory hole. The chapters that include “human zoos” and “freak shows” are especially horrifying. This story traces the history of two African American brothers with albinism, George and Willie, who spent years being displayed as circus freaks in the early 20th century. Their mother spent decades trying to get them back. This story contrasts the brutal life of the brothers’ sharecropping family with George and Willie’s globetrotting lifestyle as they reached superstardom. The result is layered and thought-provoking.
Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, America’s First Serial Killer Family by Susan Jonusas
Among books like Killers of the Flower Moon, this one is at the bananas end of the spectrum. Basically, there was an entire family of serial killers in Kansas in 1873. When they abandoned their property, which was rife with human remains, a manhunt ensued, along with a national media frenzy. The author tries to tease apart fact and folklore in this case, as well as highlight victims’ lives. If you like stories with a neat ending, this is not one of those. The mystery of the fate of the Bender family still endures!
Ghosts Of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang
While this story doesn’t focus on crime, it does drill down on the stories behind the facts quickly learned and then blown past in many American history courses — Chinese immigrants helped build the transcontinental railroad. Reflecting on that fact now might prompt some questions. What made these folks leave China? What was that presumably dangerous and grueling work like? Where did people go once the project was finished? This enthralling book filled with incredible scholarship aims to answer those questions and more.
Books like Killers of the Flower Moon are plentiful, as I’ve hopefully shown. But naturally, there’s always more to read. Whether you’re looking for spellbinding true crime, puzzling murder mysteries, or books illuminating overlooked history, we can help. Tell the dedicated bibliologists at Tailored Book Recommendations your favorite books, and they will find more books for you that will continue to expand that favorites shelf — or gift it to the reader in your life!