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Kings of Broken Things Hardcover – August 1, 2017

3.6 out of 5 stars 410 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


“Wheeler’s first novel brings his news-reporter’s skill to this retelling of the Omaha Race Riot of 1919.…Readers will be drawn into Wheeler’s careful re-creation of a turbulent time.” Booklist

“Vivid and dynamic…[Kings of Broken Things] illuminates a savage moment in history and offers a timely comment on nationalism and racism. An unsettling and insightful piece of historical fiction.” Kirkus Reviews

“[Kings of Broken Things] is a fiction, yet one that will give readers, particularly Omaha readers, an accurate portrait of the city not quite one hundred years ago. In addition to telling a good story, the book does a service to Omaha history, keeping alive the details of one of its darkest moments.” Omaha World-Herald

Kings of Broken Things is a subtly powerful novel that sneaks up on the reader…Consider these damaged characters, a torched courthouse, and a dark stain on Omaha’s history. Among these broken things, Wheeler is crowned royalty.” Lincoln Journal Star

“The heat and violence are vivid, and although almost one hundred years in the past, the political machinations that stirred up the mob and the racism feel all too contemporary right now…Readers who like their fiction gritty and realistic will appreciate this book.” —Historical Novel Society

“Wheeler’s at his best during set-piece descriptions that bring the flavor of the time and place, and the people who inhabit it, vividly into focus…The riot scenes, especially, are propulsive and harrowing…As a novel that brings a little-known or forgotten past to life, it succeeds in showing us a glimpse of where we’ve come from and how we came to be.” Kansas City Star

“The historical novel, set in Omaha, Nebraska at the end of World War I, is written with a reporter’s steady hand and attention to detail. Its author, Theodore Wheeler, works as a civil law and politics reporter in Omaha, and his meticulous research shines in a book that blends fact with fiction to create a fresh perspective on the darkest chapter in the city’s history.” The Rumpus

“Set during the Red Summer, Kings of Broken Things perfectly encapsulates both the frailty and darkness of the volatile period that saw the end of World War I, the shift from an agrarian to industrial society, heartland baseball, and the brutal lynching of Will Brown that led to the Omaha Race Riot. Powerful and resonant, this book’s relevance, in the context of today’s concerns, cannot be overstated.” —Julie Iromuanya, author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

“A beautifully written novel about an ugly, tumultuous time in history, Kings of Broken Things is an exciting, gritty portrait of a corrupt American city on the edge of self-destruction. It’s a novel that simmers, like Doctorow’s Ragtime, leaning forward always toward its powerful final chapters. Whether writing about violins or baseball or bordellos, Wheeler demonstrates a dazzling talent for bringing history alive, offering breathtaking insights into the hearts and minds of these immigrants and outsiders.” —Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola

"The rhythms of baseball run through the prose of Kings of Broken Things, as the game becomes a gateway into the stories we tell ourselves about America. This is a book that questions those stories and gives itself over to the conflict at the core of them, all told in sentences that skip along like a perfectly struck ground ball." —Matthew Salesses, author of The Hundred-Year Flood

“In this marvelous debut novel, Theodore Wheeler’s clean and unsentimental prose takes us into the rough streets of Omaha’s River Ward at the end of the First World War. Wheeler skillfully wields historical facts and imagination to give life to immigrants and the sons of immigrants as they are swept up in American ways—from baseball and election politics to the tragic lynching of a black man named Will Brown. This is a book whose characters and scenes will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.” —Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

“In this beautifully written debut novel, Ted Wheeler takes us back to a crossroads in American history, a time full of the innocence of our childhood when the joys of simple pleasures were beginning to be tainted by the growing awareness of a darkness at the core of the American Dream. Set in Omaha, the contradictions at the heart of those living in the heartland are tested by the foreboding shadows of racism and hatred that finally explode into a lynching of a black man in downtown while white crowds look on. How could the good people of Nebraska have committed and tolerated such a brutal act? Wheeler’s novel explores the world that created this terrible moment, and the aftermath that continues to punish a city known for having rigid discrimination and oppression to this day. Indeed, this is a novel for our time as we collectively face an uncertain future and ask ourselves how the daily shootings and injustices can be stopped. Wheeler possesses a powerful voice that reminds us that wrong doesn’t become merely historical; it lives forever, no matter how hard we try to erase the memory. Readers will learn from reading this novel, experience empathy, and perhaps read the daily news with greater compassion. I recommend this novel be read and reread.” —Jonis Agee, author of The Bones of Paradise

About the Author

Theodore Wheeler is a reporter who covers civil law and politics in Omaha, where he lives with his wife and their two daughters. His fiction has been featured in Best New American Voices, New Stories from the Midwest, the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, and Boulevard and received special mention in a Pushcart Prize anthology. A graduate of the MFA program at Creighton University, Wheeler was a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany; a resident of the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City; and a winner of the Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar. He is the author of Bad Faith, a collection of short fiction. Kings of Broken Things is his first novel.

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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5
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Reviewed in the United States on July 4, 2017
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Top international reviews

1.0 out of 5 stars Uninteresting for the most part
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 27, 2019
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