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101 Essential Texas Books:
A Representative Selection of
Classic and Contemporary Texas Books
All Still in Print

By Glenn Dromgoole and Carlton Stowers

(Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 2014)
Pages 160. Hardcover.
ISBN: 978-0-89112-324-8.

Book Review by Dr. Kirk Bane
"The difficulty with writing contemporary history is that it has changed even before the ink is dry. That said, in the half century the Dallas Cowboys have enjoyed a presence in the National Football League they have traveled through enough success and failure, triumph, tragedy, controversy, and praise to fill a bookshelf. Now, however, there is need for but one…Author Joe Nick Patoski brings it all together in one volume, following the team from its inception in 1960 through the 2011 season. It's all here, from Dandy Don to Tony Romo, quiet owner Clint Murchison to bombastic Jerry Jones, stoic and successful coach Tom Landry to the parade of taskmasters who would follow…The colorful, well-written history winds from the dismal early Cotton Bowl days to Super Bowl successes and into a home stadium so futuristic that it looks as if it landed in the midst of a sci-fi movie." So assert Dromgoole and Stowers in their description of Patoski's hefty, comprehensive study, The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America (Little, Brown, 2012).

Dromgoole and Stowers, who provide lucidly written, insightful one-page annotations of each book, divide their text into nine sections: History, Literature, Fiction, People, Place, Law & Order, Sports, Food & Drink, and Young Readers. Students of the Texas heritage, especially bibliophiles amassing a Lone Star library, will find this engaging study, as the title suggests, absolutely essential.
Well known and prolific Texas authors, Dromgoole and Stowers are clearly qualified to write this book. Dromgoole, a former newspaper editor, founded the West Texas Book Festival in Abilene. He has published over twenty five books, including Aggie Savvy: Practical Wisdom from Texas A&M and A Small Town in Texas: Reflections on Growing Up in the '50s and '60s. Stowers, author of more than thirty titles, is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. His studies include Where Dreams Die Hard: A Small American Town and Its Six-Man Football Team, Texas Football Legends: Greats of the Game, and Careless Whispers, a terrifying account of the 1982 Lake Waco murders.
In addition to Patoski's tome on the Cowboys, consider three other texts chosen by Dromgoole and Stowers. Evaluating Curmudgeon in Corduroy: The Best of Jerry Flemmons' Texas (TCU, 2000), they observe, "Jerry Flemmons, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for most of his career, was one of the best writers in the rich history of Texas journalism. This collection of thirty-eight essays was published the year after he died in 1999. Although Flemmons traversed the world as the newspaper's travel editor, he never wandered far from his West Texas roots, as these pieces illustrate…Flemmons rhapsodizes about some favorite Texas foods-chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas, cornbread, Frito pie-small town living, courthouse squares, front porches, cutting horses, cowboy hats, the domino game 42, the hymn 'Amazing Grace,' the Texas two-step, West Texas football, West Texas women, and the mesquite tree." Assessing Max Sherman's Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder (University of Texas Press, 2007), Dromgoole and Stowers contend, "It is safe to say that probably no Texans-and few Americans-have been as eloquent in defending the Constitution and civil liberties as was Barbara Jordan (1936-1996). As a state senator, U. S. congresswoman, and political science professor, her magnificent voice was matched only by her resolute commitment to integrity and ethics in public service…This small volume…includes the text of nine of her speeches, accompanied by a DVD of Jordan delivering four of those speeches, including two keynote addresses to the Democratic National Convention and the address that gained her a national following-her prime-time televised remarks during the impeachment hearing of Richard Nixon: 'My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.'" Also making the list is Jeff Guinn's worthy Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde (Simon & Schuster, 2009). "The twisted romance between Texas and its outlaws is as much a part of the state's history as oil booms, big hair, and political wheeling-and-dealing," maintain Dromgoole and Stowers. "And none has a more solidly etched place in its lore than the life and times of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Even today, only their first names are necessary for immediate recognition…In the hardscrabble Depression times, Bonnie and Clyde, dumb and dirt poor kids from the wrong side of the Dallas tracks, terrorized rural America with brazen acts of robbery and murder before a team of Texas Rangers finally ambushed them and put an end to the insanity…In his Edgar Award-nominated book, Guinn examines the era in which Bonnie and Clyde briefly captured the nation's imagination, offering up insights into the social struggles and changing times that gave birth to the rebellious bandit couple and their followers. The book is far more than a chronicle of two colorful criminals and their brief career. It is a story, well-written and exhaustively researched, that captures a bygone time in Texas history and lends it new understanding."

Of course, readers may disagree with some of the choices made by the authors. Dromgoole and Stowers, for example, still consider essential T. R. Fehrenbach's Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (Macmillan, 1968; Da Capo, 2000). I beg to differ. In my opinion, this outdated interpretation has been superseded by Randolph Campbell's far superior Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State (Oxford University Press, 2003; second edition, 2012). Also surpassing Fehrenbach, in my estimation, is James L. Haley's Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas (Free Press, 2006). In a perceptive Texas Monthly article cleverly titled "T. R. Fehrenbach is History"(July 2006), Michael Ennis observed that "after years of unopposed Fehrenbachian orthodoxy," the books by Campbell and Haley "suggest how we're thinking about Texas-and how we're going to have to rethink Texas-in the twenty-first century…To move forward, we'll have to accept that our history, however sacred and deeply embedded in our culture (most of us drink the Kool-Aid in seventh-grade Texas history), really isn't inerrant scripture after all; our perspective on the past changes with time, cultural and political maturity, and new information. Gibbon, for all his brilliance, wasn't the last word on the fall of Rome, and it's a good sign of our continued ascendance that Fehrenbach's literary classic is no longer the last word on the rise of Texas."

Differences aside, in the final analysis, Dromgoole and Stowers have assembled an indispensable, thought provoking bibliography. Texana enthusiasts will treasure this fine volume.

Review by Dr. Kirk Bane, Ph.D.
Blinn College (Bryan campus)
May 3, 2015
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