Students of American politics will find Thorburn’s history valuable.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF TEXAS

A POLITICAL HISTORY

Or, what a long rightward trip it’s been.

The Republican Party, notes former Texas GOP director Thorburn, was formed in Wisconsin in 1854 to further the abolitionist cause. This put it squarely against slaveholding Texas. While there were many leaders opposed to secession, “none were willing to associate with what was perceived as a small, new northern party prior to the end of the Civil War.” After that conflict, the Republican Party grew somewhat in influence, though it quickly split into conservative and progressive wings. The conservative one, by Thorburn’s account, held sway early and kept its hold on the GOP, which, in Texas, took a long time to gain statewide power. Even when Dwight Eisenhower captured the presidential vote in 1952 and again in 1956, “it was deemed socially unacceptable in various parts of the state to be identified as Republican.” At the same time, even as rural Texans would sometimes come out to gawk at Republican candidates such as George H.W. Bush, the party hewed to a conservative line and, with the likes of politicians such as John Tower, helped shape the national GOP in a rightward direction. This entailed difficult conversations about big-tent versus little-tent ambitions. Whereas Bush sought to appeal to minority voters and mend intraparty divisions, later representatives such as Louis Gohmert (ushered in thanks to redistricting) sought no such niceties. In the main, Thorburn writes, the Texas GOP, like the national one, has adopted an us-vs.-them stance. The author projects that Texas will remain in the red column, for all progressive activists’ hopes of its going blue. Even though younger voters seem more inclined to liberalism, the 2020 election still went to Trump in the state—though with down-ticket races earning higher numbers than the presidential race, with Trump’s biggest fall in numbers coming from “the state’s six largest counties.”

Students of American politics will find Thorburn’s history valuable.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4773-2251-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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