When famed Texas historian T.R. Fehrenback died a few years ago, Texas Monthly eulogized the man and offered some early insight on his legacy and the book that made him famous – Lone Star:
What makes Fehrenbach a great historian? The answer is that he is a great writer. He has a story to tell. Lone Star is indeed an epic. It is a work that covers not just chapters but centuries. On its pages we encounter generations of men who came to Texas to subdue a harsh land. Some succeeded; others could not take the measure of the land, and it ended up taking the measure of them. That is the message of Lone Star, that life in Texas is a struggle, and it is the struggle that makes life in Texas worthwhile.
Even though I am a proud Texan (so much so that I prefer the older term Texian), I never read Fehrenbach’s 700+ page epic until his death. I felt I owed it to the man, and to the book, which was so monumental that “for more than a generation, no writer even attempted a similarly panoramic, popular treatment,” (Texas Monthly, again). Since 2016 was a year in which I picked up many books that I owned but hand’t yet ventured to finish, it was the Year of Fehrenbach. In fact, it was almost a literal year of Fehrenbach. It took me nine months to finish. Even with an entertaining writer, 700+ pages is a lot of history pages, especially when I also read a 900+ book on western philosophy in the same year. I started Lone Star in March and finished yesterday. That’s a lot of reading on the bus. That’s giving up a lot of time that could’ve been spent elsewhere.
Was it worth it? Yes.
While the book is dense and at times challenging, it is rewarding. There are 254 counties in Texas, as well as over 1,200 cities. Reading this book helped understand who the counties and cities were named for, and why. It gave me an appreciation of why attachment to the land is in the genes of so many of my neighbors. Many of the things I enjoy so much in the state are included – the friendliness, the good-humored swagger, the desire to let everyone live their own life, the respect for the land. The book also explains some of the more troublesome aspects of the historic Texan psychology. That information is useful to know, if not attractive. (Keep in mind the book is decades old, so some of the foci are not what authors might focus on today.) Warts and all, the book is very Texan, so of course I enjoyed it.
Before recommending it outright, I would also recommend to folks that they consider Randolph B. Campbell’s Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State, or Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas by James L. Haley. I haven’t read either, yet, but they are more recently written and may be easier to digest.