Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Writing with a journalist's attention to facts and a novelist's deft story telling, Harrigan provides readers with a sweeping history of "this outsized state that sits at the center of the nation but stands consciously apart from it." Starting with the Karankawa tribe who met the first Spanish explorers as they came ashore near present-day Galveston, he brings to life the people and events that make up nearly 500 years of Texas history. Harrigan is not an academic historian, which is doubtless in his favor, but he has done thorough research as his end notes and sources indicate. His treatment is even handed, and he grounds his narrative in facts that are often lost in the bright glare of myth and legend. Not that there aren't some larger than life characters in the history of this state whose life stories are ready fodder for mythologizing. By focusing on the individuals, famous, not-so-famous, and infamous, whose lives make up the history of Texas, Harrigan defines what it has meant to be a Texan and still means: adventurousness, willingness to take risks, protectiveness, fear of constraints, bravery, pride, and loyalty to a mythology that they helped to create. Highly recommended. --Alice

— Alice


"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. Big Wonderful Thing is] as good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados."--Kirkus, Starred Review

The story of Texas is the story of struggle and triumph in a land of extremes. It is a story of drought and flood, invasion and war, boom and bust, and the myriad peoples who, over centuries of conflict, gave rise to a place that has helped shape the identity of the United States and the destiny of the world.

"I couldn't believe Texas was real," the painter Georgia O'Keeffe remembered of her first encounter with the Lone Star State. It was, for her, "the same big wonderful thing that oceans and the highest mountains are."

Big Wonderful Thing invites us to walk in the footsteps of ancient as well as modern people along the path of Texas's evolution. Blending action and atmosphere with impeccable research, New York Times best-selling author Stephen Harrigan brings to life with novelistic immediacy the generations of driven men and women who shaped Texas, including Spanish explorers, American filibusters, Comanche warriors, wildcatters, Tejano activists, and spellbinding artists--all of them taking their part in the creation of a place that became not just a nation, not just a state, but an indelible idea.

Written in fast-paced prose, rich with personal observation and a passionate sense of place, Big Wonderful Thing calls to mind the literary spirit of Robert Hughes writing about Australia or Shelby Foote about the Civil War. Like those volumes, it is a big book about a big subject, a book that dares to tell the whole glorious, gruesome, epically sprawling story of Texas.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780292759510
ISBN-10: 0292759517
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication Date: October 1st, 2019
Pages: 944
Language: English