The strength of Brands's account lies in his tendency towards biography and his talent for rendering dramatic anecdotes. Professor of American History at Texas A&M and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Brands has an attraction to powerful American personalities, as demonstrated by his biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin (T.R. and The First American, respectively). The history of Texas is rife with legendary frontiersmen, and David Crockett, Sam Houston, and James Bowie add color to the narrative built around Stephen Austin, Santa Anna, and a succession of American presidents with expansionist ambitions. When he arrives at the pivotal moments in Texas lore, Brands is apt to follow a singular individual rather than give a broad, battlefield account.
"For better or for worse, Texas was very much like America," Brands declares near the end of his study, reflecting on the abuse of indigenous peoples and the greed of those declaring "Manifest Destiny." He continues: "sooner or later ... democracy corrected its worst mistakes." Despite this sanguine conclusion, Brands omits a balancing account of Indian claims to Texas. The Comanches, "natural anarchists" according to Brands, are sketched in a few short pages, and no Native American shares a voice in the text (partially to be excused for a lack of primary sources). Brands argues, "If the Texans were guilty of theft, the people from whom they sprang were much guiltier." Perhaps true, but Brands's highly readable tale of Texas heroes would be even stronger with a tempering account of the victims of the thievery. --Patrick O'Kelley
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The bastion of the Alamo in San Antonio was defended by a small band of Texans against Mexican general Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution. All the defenders died. After making himself dictator of Mexico, Santa Anna lost Texas in the War for Texas Independence and later much more in the Mexican-American War. The Commanches were Indians on the Great Plains who fought the US Army for decades until finally defeated.