A Great Big Wonderful Read

Posted by Whole Earth | 04.07.2020

Couple reading on the couch


Now that you’re sheltering in place, wouldn’t this be a great time to hunker down with a really good book? Have we got a winner for you! Stephen Harrigan’s Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas is a page-turning account of Texas from the days of the people who quarried Alibates flints on the High Plains to George W. Bush. 


This is Harrigan’s newest book and perhaps his biggest challenge to date. He’s been writing about Texas for over 40 years, starting with Texas Monthly back in the 1970’s. When Dave Hamrick, the Director of the University of Texas Press, decided it was time for a new history of the state, he asked Harrigan if he would like to take it on. Harrigan’s first response was “Maybe he should ask a historian instead. It was a project that seemed too large, too crucial, to entrust to a novelist and a magazine writer.” Fortunately for us, Harrigan did accept, and Hamrick’s choice has proven to be inspired. 


As a journalist, Harrigan looks not only at the current state of affairs, but looks back to see how it came to be so. He claims that his articles and essays have “tended to be as much about the past as the present. As a journalist, I was never quite as interested in the top layer of time, which I was supposed to be covering, as I was in the history rumbling beneath it.” Harrigan is also a master storyteller, author of several well- received historical novels including the prize winning The Gates of the Alamo and another on the early career of Abraham Lincoln that transport a reader into another time and place with ease. 


Drawing on his skills as a journalist and a storyteller, Harrigan is an engaging guide to the history of Texas told with an eye for intriguing characters, riveting stories and telling details. One of the joys of this book is that you can open it up anywhere and get pulled into a fascinating story. Or if you prefer to read a book in the order the author intended, Harrigan keeps the pace moving right along with an ever-changing cast of characters and events. The book is illustrated throughout with portraits, documentary photographs and maps. The notes and the bibliography offer fertile ground for further reading. 


Like many things in Texas, Texas history is a source of contention among those who care deeply for the traditions and heritage of the state. Any book on Texas history is sure to stir up controversy in some circles. Texas history is complex and does not lend itself to simplification, hence, this big wonderful book, weighing in at three and half pounds and 944 pages.  A reader will find much to delight and entertain as well as much food for thought and reflection. 


If you’re new to the state, if you haven’t looked at Texas history since 7th grade, or you’re a fan of Lone Star history of all kinds, this is a book for you.  It’s a page-turner that helps us gain a better understanding of how Texas has come to be the diverse and complicated state that we love today through the stories of the people and the land they fought over and loved. 




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