by William C. Davis
New York: The Free Press, 2004. Pp. 368 pages.
Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. $27.00. ISBN:0684865106
In Lone Star Rising, William C. Davis produces a comprehensive and thoroughly readable history of the Texas Revolution of 1836. Most history buffs will be familiar with Davis from his numerous appearances in cable television historical specials, including the A&E series "Civil War Journal." He should be equally well known from his vast body of work as a popular historian: His latest work is another strong demonstration of the prolific Davis's talent for producing readable, approachable works of insightful history.
The land-hungry dream of carving the Texan lands away from Mexico dated from the 1820s, but Davis begins even earlier, ably and entertainingly composing the setting for the 1830s. The attention paid to the preceding history yields significant dividends later in the book. For example, by the time Davis reaches the 1836 Revolution and the infamous massacres directed by Santa Ana, we already understand why such bloodshed was almost certain to occur. The narrative introduces us to the harsh Spanish tradition of dealing with rebels. Also, when the narrative reaches 1836, the author has already painted decades of plotting Americans engaged in piratical-if-hapless invasions, aimed at seizing the province of Texas. To the Mexicans, the 1836 Revolution looked like just another frustrating, outrageous attempt by the gringos to steal their land.
The book's timing coincides with the summer release of Disney's The Alamo and it delivers many of the points where the film fails. While The Alamo promised us the Mexican side of the story of 1836; Davis's book actually succeeds. In this, the book is superior to previous accounts. While he does not neglect the Texan pantheon: the stolid, conservative Stephen Austin; the unscrupulous Jim Bowie; Sam Houston, the scheming drunkard; and the fire-eating William Travis. Davis also calls attention to the often-neglected tejano (Mexican Texan) leader Juan Seguin. At last, the tejanos play a central role alongside the American immigrants ("Texians"). Furthermore, the convoluted story of Mexican politics (vis-à-vis the Revolution) finally receives its due. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a fascinating character who is too often reduced to the role of a tin pot dictator and villain, also receives full attention.
Davis has penned a successful work, depicting how three very distinct groups of people struggled over both the land and the idea of what would become Texas, and how the Americans eventually triumphed. He avoids making an argument in favor of simply telling a story, and unlike his predecessors he tells a complete story. Consequently, the book is a new take on a very old story and should become a major work among the popular histories of Texas.