cover image Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas

Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas

Stephen Harrigan. Univ. of Texas, $35 (944p) ISBN 978-0-292-75951-0

Harrigan (The Gates of the Alamo) describes post-Columbian Texas in novelistic style in this eloquent homage to the Lone Star state. He follows many figures—among them the 19th-century Mexican general and politician Antonio López de Santa Anna, Comanche chief Quanah Parker, and “Mother of Texas” Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long—and makes smooth transitions between landmark events, such as the 16th-century Spanish expeditions and the Alamo. Lesser-known but powerful stories, including that of the devastating 1963 natural gas explosion at a New London school, pepper the colorful narrative. Despite the author’s love of Texas, he’s also frank about the horrific violence that figures throughout its history, including the experiences of Native Americans and enslaved people. Harrigan jauntily describes unexpected connections: he recounts learning later that his seemingly average childhood neighbors included WWII hero Joe Dawson and civil rights champion Dr. Hector Garcia. Texan politicians such as H. Ross Perot, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and the Bush presidents receive attention without political analysis; Harrigan recalls getting to know George and Laura Bush as fellow parents of young daughters. Scenes of dusty West Texas and the pine-laden eastern forests add a travelogue touch. History lovers will enjoy this packed, fascinating account of a singular state. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Oct.)