James A. Michener
This is a long story, the whole history of Texas, from its very beginnings, as far back as 1540 when the Spanish nobleman Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition from Mexico to search the northern wilds for gold. And while much of the story is interesting, some of it is quite boring. Nevertheless, the story will go on. And on. Never before has Michener been so bold about using his muted blend of fiction/fact to instruct. We are presented from the outset with a (fictional) state Task Force, assigned to determine how best the complex, colorful weave of Texas history can be presented to its schoolchildren of today. As we meet the members of the Task Force, it quickly becomes apparent that each represents a Texas stereotype: e.g., the oilman, the rancher, the Southern lady, the Spanish descendant. And, indeed, as Michener repeatedly interrupts the musings of the Task Force to present fictionalized vignettes from different epochs of Texas history, we meet each member's ancestors as they stumble into, and flourish within, the confines of the Lone Star State's borders. For example, the 21 st-removed ancestor of Task Force member Efrain Garza accompanies the Spanish as a muleteer on that early expedition. Another Garza is at the side of the Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna as he lays siege to the Alamo. We follow the sweep of Texas history through the years of early settlement, the founding of the Republic, the taming of the Wild West, the great Indian wars, the Civil War, the establishment of the cotton, cattle and oil industries. We live the beginnings of the Texas Rangers, even thrill to the revolutionary introduction of barbed wire to ranch life, and delight in the contemporary vagaries of the real-estate boom, that last frontier in which a man can still make his millions if he has the courage of his speculations. Such real-life heroes as Jim Bowie and Sam Houston are tossed into the mix with their fictional counterparts, and credibility is often strained with the run of coincidences (in a state as large as Texas, how is it that the ancestors of Task Force members manage to stumble over each other at every historical turn?). But the generational connections do serve to keep the story moving. While some will be offended by Michener's politics--he takes care to warn, for instance, that the surge of illegal immigration from Mexico could one day overcome the state--most will find he has reduced the sprawl of Texas history to a good read. Overall, Michener tames Texas, and if in doing so he flattens some of its flair, he presents its history as a comprehensive and readable whole.