“Writers have been sizing up Texas from its earliest days, usually harshly,” says Lawrence Wright in the opening pages of his captivating new book on Texas.
Big, brash and vast, Texas matters. And not just because of its size. The changing demographics of a state with a growing Hispanic population may soon present a challenge to its Republican dominance. As a result, Texas is forefront in the minds of political analysts across the country, as they try to ponder the future political direction of America.
Award-winning New Yorker writer and long-time Texas resident Wright has set himself the task of getting behind the myths, stories and politics of America’s largest state. The book begins with Wright and his friend Steve cycling around the five Spanish missions scattered along the San Antonio River. The relaxed, meandering style continues throughout, the narrative slowly bringing the reader along on this journey, revealing gems along the way.
Wright begins with one of the definitive moments in Texas’ development – the discovery of oil. In the early years of the 20th century, a wily Texan began drilling a suspiciously sulphurous hill on the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana border.
On January 19th, 1901, a column of black liquid spurted 150ft into the air. “No one had ever seen anything like this,” writes Wright. After the second year of production, the well was producing 17 million barrels of oil a year. The Texan oil industry had begun, as too had the pattern of boom-and-bust that would characterise the state’s economy over the next century as prices rose and fall according to supply, right up to today’s fracking revolution.
The state’s relationship with its natural…