BIG WONDERFUL THING by Stephen Harrigan
Kirkus Star


A History of Texas
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Austin-based novelist Harrigan (A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, 2016, etc.) serves up a lively history of the nation-sized Lone Star State.

The title comes from the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who marveled at Texas but wound up making her fortune in next-door New Mexico. Of course, Texas has many next-door neighbors, each influencing it and being influenced by it: the plains of Oklahoma, the bayous and deep forests of Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico itself, all where South and West and Midwest meet. Telling its story is a daunting task: If the project of the gigantic centennial Big Tex statue with which Harrigan opens his story was to “Texanize Texans,” it was one in which women, ethnic minorities, the poor, and many other sorts of people were forgotten in the face of stalwarts like Sam Houston, Judge Roy Bean, and Davy Crockett. Not here. The standbys figure, but in interesting lights: Houston was famous and even infamous in his day, but his successor, Mirabeau Lamar, mostly known only for the Austin avenue named for him, was just as much a man of parts, “a poet and classical scholar with a bucolic vision of the empire that his administration aimed to wrest from the hands of its enemies.” Harrigan’s story of the Alamo is also nuanced: It is not true that there were no survivors, but the fact that the survivors were slaves has rendered them invisible—as is the fact that many Mexican officers who served under Santa Anna pleaded with him to show mercy to the rest. The Alamo has given a Texas flair to all sorts of things, including a recent golf tournament, highlighting Texans’ tendency toward "a blend of valor and swagger.” Just so, Harrigan, surveying thousands of years of history that lead to the banh mi restaurants of Houston and the juke joints of Austin, remembering the forgotten as well as the famous, delivers an exhilarating blend of the base and the ignoble, a very human story indeed.

As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-292-75951-0
Page count: 944pp
Publisher: Univ. of Texas
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019


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