A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them (Hardcover)

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A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them By Timothy Egan Cover Image
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 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana


The Historian Timothy Egan has once again written a book that comes alive on it’s pages. This time it is not only an engaging read, but a timely one. In a day when so many are pushing their agenda, we could learn from this book how easy it is for a dogma to infiltrate our society. 


During America’s Jazz Age- the Roaring Twenties, a time of “Great Gatsby” frivolity- a uniquely American hate group rose to power, threatening our way of life: the Ku Klux Klan. Not the old Confederacy variety, but a group of wide encompassing hatred, not only percecuting Black people but also immigrants, Jews, and Catholics alike. Egan focuses on the man who brought this to being, D.C. Stephenson.


D.C. Stephenson blew into town, pretty much unknown and poor, but realized his thirst for fame and wealth through the Ku Klux Klan. His plan was to go through the local churches, to drive in crowds and extract a fee. His Klan was oriented to the family and he hid their intentions by selling the public on Americanism. However, D.C. Stephenson propegated Absentence, yet he was a raving alcoholic; he preached virtue, but was a rapist. The Klan soon became accepted because they used certain social conditions to stir fear in the general populace. One was prohibition, which was seen as a crutch for the flood of immigrants coming into the country- Irish and Greek immigrants met and drank at their local pubs. Secondly, the liberation of women and the dawning of the flapper age. Thirdly, the great migration of Black people into the Northern states. The movie “Birth of a Nation” was seen by one out of every four Americans, and is called “the greatest racial propaganda film of all times” by Egan. Black people in the film were portrayed as savage simpletons and a threat to white women. When a white woman is being attacked, it is a hooded Klan member that comes to the rescue.


At it’s height, the Klan’s membership numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Local law enforcement agencies, political offices, and religious leaderships were infiltrated and soon the Klan became the law. One out of every third male in Indiana was a Klan member. Wanting the Klan to be family oriented, Stephenson created a Women’s Klan and even one geared for kids, known as the Ku Klux Kiddies. It is a dark period of History that Egan vividly portrays in his book. 


Several people and organizations tried to stop the movement but were mainly unsuccessful. A newspaper editor was thrown in jail for attacking the Klan. When a plot to bomb the golden dome of Notre Dame, a Catholic school, was unsuccessful thousands of Klan members marched against the school, only to be meet by potato throwing students. The NAACP went against the Klan with a publication called “Tolerance,” exposing identities of Klan members on the last page, but it backfired, for when people saw who were Klan members it prompted them to join.


Book reviews should be geared toward making the reader want to buy and read the book, so I am not going to go into the spoiler aspect of the subtitle of the book, just let me say that the woman who stopped the Klan experienced terrible events, being raped by Stepheson and through the trial she would not stop. Madge Oberholtzer was a 28 year old teacher and a Suffragette. She cut her hair in a bob and attended speak easy, but when her job was on the chopping block, she went to Stephenson for help. Stephenson called the trial a” Witch Hunt”, sound familiar? Even when he was going to court for this case, happening during an election year, politicians who claimed Klan ideas were being elected in droves. It was her final testimony which convicted Stephenson and exposed the agenda of hatred which drove the Klan.


This book will draw you in and give you a glimpse of American History which has mostly be forgotten. It’s a dark work, but there is hope in the end, just as there is hope for us in our times. -- Frank Pester

— From Best Wellers Pick



"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." —Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile

“Riveting…Egan is a brilliant researcher and lucid writer.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

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.

About the Author

Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and the author of nine other books, most recently the highly acclaimed A Pilgrimage to Eternity and The Immortal Irishman, a New York Times bestseller. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. His account of photographer Edward Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, won the Carnegie Medal for nonfiction.

Praise For…

“Powerful . . . As a narrative, “A Fever in the Heartland” is gripping; as a rumination on the moral obscenity of white supremacy — whatever guises it wears — the book is damning.” The New York Times Book Review

"A master class in the tools of narrative nonfiction: high stakes, ample suspense and sweeping historical phenomena made vivid through the dramatic actions of individual villains and heroes.” The Washington Post

“Riveting…Egan is a brilliant researcher and lucid writer.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Masterful…this is a fascinating read and revelation of American history.”The Spokesman-Review

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

"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.” —Ken Burns

"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." —David Grann, author of The Wager and Killers of the Flower Moon

"[A] riveting exposé." —Booklist, starred review

“Riveting history…..excellently rendered.” —Kirkus, starred review

“[A] certifiable page-turner.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“Engrossing…a valuable work of history.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review

Product Details
ISBN: 9780735225268
ISBN-10: 0735225265
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: April 4th, 2023
Pages: 432
Language: English