James L. Haley, Author . Univ. of Oklahoma $39.95 (520p) ISBN 0-8061-3405-4

"To be governor of Tennessee with Old Hickory [Andrew Jackson] in the White House," Haley writes, "was as close to being the Prince of Wales as American blood could approach." Yet when his young wife left him on their second day of marriage, Sam Houston (1793–1863) resigned in embarrassment and at 36 went, literally and politically, into the wilderness. Later, in Texas, he rebuilt his public and private life and guided the territory from impoverished Mexican province to independent republic to newest state in the Union. Serving as Texas's president, then as senator and governor, Houston saw his dreams for his state collapse when its inhabitants forced him out of the governor's seat in order to join the Confederacy. Claiming that Houston "has survived scholarly scrutiny with his mysteries intact"—there have been at least 60 previous biographies—Haley (Texas: From Spindletop to World War II) has explored documents only accessible in the last two decades. His book—15 years in the making—"is imperfect," he says, because "a definitive Houston biography would require a minimum of three volumes." But Houston's life is largely well told, and often moving, although Haley at times seems addicted to cliché. He also may have cut his narrative a bit too deeply to remain within his "contractual length of a quarter-million words": the American war with Mexico, for example, so crucial to Houston and to Texas, gets particularly short treatment. Even so, Haley's life of Houston is a good read, solidly evoking the prickly personality of the first and greatest Texan. Largely a book for Texans, this may also find an audience among readers interested in the pre–Civil War South. 52 b&w illus. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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