Indian State historian Williams (A Great and Shining Road, 1988) presents one of the most colorful figures of the early days of the American West as a flawed hero and failed family man--but also as an unswerving supporter of the republic that he guided into the US. Born in 1793 in western Virginia, Houston distanced himself from his family at an early age, living among the Cherokee as a teenager and maintaining their trust even after he developed his lifelong passion for alcohol. Wounded in an attack against Creek rebels, he recovered sufficiently to become a member of Congress and then governor of Tennessee before the age of 35, but habitual drunkenness and a scandal involving his wife led to his resignation as governor in 1829. Soon attracted to the possibility of carving a new nation from northern Mexico, Houston became involved in schemes to settle the territory with Americans, provoking a strong response from Mexican general Santa Anna. Seizing the proper moment, now-General Houston led a charge against the Mexican army, defeating it soundly though receiving a painful wound. Acclaimed as a hero, Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas and steered it on a quiet but steady course toward annexation by the US (accomplished in 1845) while attempting to stay clear of the growing controversy over slavery. As a US senator and, later, governor of Texas, Houston held to a moderate course, trying above all to keep Texas in the Union--but to no avail. In 1863, two years after Texas joined the Confederacy, Houston died, broken and impoverished. Well-detailed but somewhat pedestrian history in which Houston emerges only intermittently from his context; still, a valuable look at the forces behind the formation of Texas and its pivotal role in US expansion from coast to coast.