Book of the week
God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State
“It can be hard to explain the appeal of our state to outsiders,” said Texas native Michael Schaub in NPR.org. Journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright knows that all too well. Raised in Abilene, he moved to Dallas just a few years before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and he has spent the past 38 years living in Austin, often embarrassed and repelled by the way politics is practiced in the state’s capital. But Wright, who’s a staff writer at The New Yorker, is also “one of the most talented journalists Texas has ever produced,” and with God Save Texas, he’s created a thoughtful portrait that balances the good and the bad. It’s “essential reading” for anyone who believes, as Wright does, that Texas’ outsize influence on today’s national political culture will only grow in the decades to come.
“For every stereotype Wright explores,” he finds a counterfactual that “blows it up,” said Colette Bancroft in the Tampa Bay Times. Texas mostly elects white conservative Christian men, but it’s one of only four states where the non-Hispanic white population is a minority. Texas prides itself on its independent cowboy-capitalist spirit, but forfeited its best chance of remaining an independent republic in the mid 19th century when it joined the U.S. rather than accept a loan from Great Britain that required renouncing slavery. Antigovernment sentiment has been a theme for generations, but among its unintended consequences is an absence of zoning laws that have left Houston unusually integrated, while also making it unusually vulnerable to 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.
Texas is, of course, “far too big to be just one thing,” said Chris Vognar in The Dallas Morning News. Wright asks us to think of it as two places: “AM Texas” and “FM Texas”—one rural or suburban and Republican, and the other urban, multi-ethnic, and Democratic. He also reminds us that Texas may be far different in 2050, when its population will nearly match that of California and New York combined. There’s no need to look further for why Wright has stayed in Texas so long despite believing that it’s nurtured an “immature political culture” that has already done “terrible damage” to the nation, said Andrew Graybill in Texas Monthly. “In short, it matters, and deeply.” In Wright’s words, Texas is home to a culture that’s “not fully formed” but also “growing in influence, dangerous, and magnificent in its potential.”