Adroitly told popular history of Galveston Island--a barrier island off the Texas coast that's a string of sand 30 miles long, so narrow it can be walked across in half an hour. Occupied continuously since 1400, Galveston Island hosted Cabaza de Vaca, La Salle, and Jean Lafitte before Texas was a republic, and by the 20th century had developed an upper crust among the jasmine and honeysuckled Victorian mansions so snobbish that a bride sent wedding invitations to total strangers if her grandparents spent the night with their grandparents during the 1900 hurricane. Cartwright (Dirty Dealing, 1984, etc.) opens with the first inhabitants, the Karankawa Indians, whose men were often six feet tall, making them appear like giants to Europeans. The Karankawas were reclusive, raided other villages for women to marry and children to eat, and devoured the flesh of enemy braves while the latter were still alive. Cartwright devotes later individual chapters to the men who shaped Galveston Island, such as Jean Lafitte, the greatest privateer and smuggler of the 19th century, who made the island the headquarters of his fleet in 1817, built a town called Campeachy, and devised the New World's largest slave market, where blacks captured from Spanish slaving vessels were sold for a dollar a pound. Cartwright tells of Sam Houston, retreating from Santa Anna until his back was to Galveston Island and launching a huge and vicious attack that finally won Texas independence; gives a white-knuckle, minute-to- minute account of the hurricane of September 7, 1900, recorded as the worst disaster in US history (7000 perished); describes the Prohibition years when Galveston Island was a rum-running center and the playground of Texas; and introduces us to Galveston Island's present-day citizens, including the Moodys--owners of a $2 billion empire whose internecine wars and peccadilloes are worthy of a book to themselves. More high points than can be listed; expertly told and pleasurably interesting.