Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas

Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas

by Stephen Harrigan


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"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-13: 9780292759510
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Pages: 944
Sales rank: 29,770
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.80(d)

About the Author

Stephen Harrigan has devoted much of his life to exploring and explaining Texas, ever since his family crossed the Red River from Oklahoma in 1953. He is the author of numerous works of nonfiction and fiction, including the critically acclaimed novels A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, Remember Ben Clayton, and the New York Times best seller The Gates of the Alamo. He is a longtime writer for Texas Monthly and an award-winning screenwriter who has written many movies for television.

Table of Contents

  • Prologue. Big Tex
  • Part One. They Came from the Sky
    • 1. Castaways
    • 2. Golden Cities
    • 3. “Woe to Us”
    • 4. The Lady in Blue
    • 5. Voyageurs
    • 6. God’s Work
  • Part Two. The Ripe Peach
    • 7. Filibusters
    • 8. “God Speed Ye”
    • 9. The Texas Dream
    • 10. The Consequence of Failure
    • 11. Come and Take It
    • 12. “The Alamo Is Ours!”
    • 13. Vengeance
  • Part Three. The People Want Excitement
    • 14. Aftermath
    • 15. Spartan Spirit
    • 16. “Savage Ware Fare”
    • 17. The Broken Flagpole
    • 18. Los Diablos Tejanos
    • 19. The Crisis of the Crisis
    • 20. Robbers and Lawyers
    • 21. Warriors and Refugees
    • 22. “I Will Never Do It”
    • 23. “With Throbbing Hearts”
    • 24. Reconstructed
    • 25. The End of Comanchería
    • 26. Fenced In
    • 27. The “Peril” of Legislation
    • 28. Bipedal Brutes
    • 29. Scorpions and Horny Toads
  • Part Four. While Old Rip Slept
    • 30. A Thousand Little Devils
    • 31. Gushers
    • 32. Light Coming on the Plains
    • 33. Sediciosos
    • 34. Pa
    • 35. War at Home and Abroad
    • 36. The Blacksnake Whip
  • Part Five. The Empire of Texas
    • 37. Music and Mayhem
    • 38. The Boy from the Hill Country
    • 39. Centennial
    • 40. Passionate Ones
    • 41. Texans at War Again
    • 42. The Show of Shows
    • 43. A New Texas
    • 44. Ye Shall Know the Truth
    • 45. The Lord Takes a Sleeping Pill
    • 46. Giant
    • 47. A Gamblin’ Man
    • 48. Welcome Mr. Kennedy
    • 49. “El Degüello” Reprise
    • 50. The Voice of God
    • 51. The Tower
    • 52. Vigil on the Pedernales
    • 53. A Side to Belong To
    • 54. Don’t Be So Self-Righteous
    • 55. Baptism of Fire
    • 56. Texans versus Texans
  • Epilogue. Davy Crockett’s Fairy Palace
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

Dan Rather

"It's rare to find a book that so compellingly weds such deep research with brilliant storytelling. A masterwork and a Texas history for the ages, destined to become a classic."

Mimi Swartz

"No one tells the story of Texas better than Stephen Harrigan. He brings to Big Wonderful Thing contemporary and thoughtful analysis along with the most graceful writing anywhere. Harrigan pulls no punches but uses humor and pathos to examine the complexities and contradictions that have made us who we are. Finally, Texas has the rich and honest history it deserves."

Lawrence Wright

"Big Wonderful Thing is history at its best—comprehensive, deeply informed, pleasurable, and filled with surprise and delight. It is at once a gift to the people of Texas and an unflinching explanation to the world at large of America’s most controversial state. The book itself is truly a big wonderful thing."

S.C. Gwynne

"I am not sure which is the greater achievement here: digesting such a vast amount of historical data or making that gigantic wall of information fun to read. Because it certainly is the latter. I challenge the reader, in fact, to open to any page of this 829-page colossus and not have fun. It’s all interesting, and that is not hype. Harrigan tacks brilliantly through the shifting winds of Texas history by telling a series of rip-snorting good tales."

Larry McMurtry

"Stephen Harrigan has given us a wonderful new history of Texas. It tells us all we need to know and little that we don't need to know. A splendid effort."

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