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God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright

December 16, 2018


In 2016, my wife and I quit our jobs in the Bay Area and moved to Austin. A year later, a job pulled us back to the Bay Area, only to realize that life’s easier in Austin. So we moved back again. As I was driving across the country with the dog for the third time in a little more than two years, I listened to this love letter to the land of big, the land of contradictions, the land of Texas.

The first time I’d driven from California, I was stopped by the border patrol and my car was searched. The border patrol agent warned me that their drug dog smelled something, and if I had pot in my car—even a little—I should just give it up and not make them unpack everything. “Texas isn’t like California,” he said. The eight hours that followed, of barreling across the barren but beautiful west Texas, rolling through tiny towns that seemed right out of The Last Picture Show, marveling at the scale of the sky and the length of the horizon made me agree with him. Yes, I was headed toward a little blue dot in the center of that big red state, where the music, art, politics and tech bubble all felt like a mini-California, but Austin was only a small part of the picture.

When I tell people I moved here from California, I often get an exasperated sigh. There is an independence here that at times can border on protectionism. Even people who moved here as recently as a few years ago will tell you that it’s being ruined by people like me moving in, particularly from California. This, too, may be specific to Austin, where the traffic feels especially Californian these days, but Wright draws the connection as well, placing Texas and California as the two dominant forces in the future of the U.S., like giants engaged in a tug-of-war. But other than their politics, Texas and California are similar in many ways: large enough in land and economies to be formidable countries unto themselves, each with unique cultures and rituals, diverse populations and many complicated challenges and opportunities in the decades to come. Each is riddled with contradictions.


A welcoming bumper sticker I saw a few weeks ago.

Here, Wright wades through those contradictions in Texas, celebrating what deserves to be celebrated, calling out the more problematic aspects of the state, and generally puzzling through the rest. In it, he touches on history, geography, politics, culture and cultures, natural resources and natural beauty, the economics and industry. Oil, guns, trucks, country music, wide open spaces, barbecue, beer, cattle, cowboys, football, religion, politics, snakes, hurricanes, small towns in decline and big cities ascending. It is all a part of the story.

Wright points out that many of the stereotypes of Texans are true, but most are more complicated. For example, everyone knows that Texans tend to have an individualistic spirit. It’s a common belief that Texas is the most likely state to secede from the Union. And while it’s true that one in four Texans would like to see their state make its own way, this stat holds nationwide, regardless of which state is being surveyed. Nonetheless, “Texas is at once the most super-American of states, and the most indigestible.” Texans serve their country in the armed forces and wave the American flag proudly, but also have a distaste and distrust for the federal government. Texas is the big oil state, but it’s also the largest producer of wind energy in the country.

Texas is the heart of what Wright calls AM politics—the blustery, loud-mouthed, conspiracy-theory-believin’ political quacks like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh, who helped give rise to the nihilistic Tea-Partyin’ wing of the GOP. But it also holds some old notions about what politics can be, where politicians from across the aisle not only work together but sometimes genuinely like each other. “Like many Texans, I harbor a fondness for the Bush family that has nothing to do with their politics. Numberless people in the state can testify to their kindness and decency.”

This is a smart book. It is a ramble. It feels like some of my trips across the state, when I’d get bored of the highway, pull off and take one of the roads that went in the general direction I wanted to go. It takes a little longer, but it’s worth it. There’s a lot to see. You can feel the stories. And if you’re on a road, eventually you’re going to get somewhere. Wright is a great storyteller. Must be the Texan in him.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. L.Peninger permalink
    December 16, 2018 10:40 pm

    The rich history of Texas is definitely appealing. She is a big beautiful woman that draws her children from far away. Once you’re here you’re here.


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