How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence--and Changed America
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A sturdy survey of early-19th-century Texas history and the “Texican” struggle for independence.

Brands (History/Texas A&M; The Age of Gold, 2002, etc.), one of the most fluent of narrative historians, spins a good yarn, strong on colorful characters and situations. He even adds a few subtle shades to the exceptionalist interpretation of Lone Star State history, which paints the place as a sort of promised land. Perhaps, Brands rejoins, but Texas was a frontier for a long time after its discovery, an empty place: “To find Texas,” he writes, “one had to be looking for it.” Yet for the hardscrabble farmers of Tennessee, “where the stony ridges and thin soil tested the patience of even the Jobs among the plowmen,” the fertile soil of the Texas bottomlands promised paradise, and the entrepreneurs who recruited them to accept Mexican citizenship and colonize the place made a comfortable living from the place, too—never mind the fact that plenty of people with longer pedigrees had their own claims to the land. Brands doesn’t offer much new in the way of fact, but his narrative is fluent and even entertaining, and it gives and strips away credit as is due. Stephen Austin, for instance, emerges as a somewhat slippery character who began his Texas career as a naturalized Mexican citizen opposed to “mad schemes of independence,” so much so that he denounced would-be rebels to the authorities; Antonio López de Santa Anna earns points for bravery, even as he “distracted his compatriots from their domestic problems by reopening the Texas war” in 1842, several years after most books about the Alamo end; and so forth. There are a couple of false notes here and there—slavery seems almost an accident, for instance—but on the whole, Brands’s account is as good as any in the literature.

A pleasure for students of Texas history, and a fine complement to Randolph E. Campbell’s more complete Gone to Texas (p. 726).

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-50737-2
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003

Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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