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America's Most Legendary Battle
Common men rising to uncommon heights is the theme of Sam Houston State University historian James Olson's latest book, "A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory."
With more than 40 books to his credit, Olson is the university's most published author. His latest book takes an in-depth, conservative look at the Alamo and the brave Texans who discovered in it a cause worth dying for.
Olson's book, just released at the end of January, is co-authored by Randy Roberts, a former SHSU faculty member with whom Olson has previously written. Roberts is currently a professor at Purdue University.
The first half of the 352-page book focuses on the actual battle of the Alamo, and the second half on the Alamo as a cultural icon and source of political debate in America.
SHSU graduate Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, reviewed the book in the February 9 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Rather said the book "is rich in historical and biographical detail and forms one of the strongest accounts I've read of the drive for Texas independence that began roughly in 1820."
"Texas takes its past seriously," continued Rather. "'A Line in the Sand' makes some poignant...observations about how it is that two republics, relatively equal at that time on the world stage, came to own such different futures as have the U.S. and Mexico."
In their book, Olson and Roberts describe what Olson calls the typical liberal approach to analyzing the past that many historians have taken today. Olson writes that the liberal historian believes "The men who died at the Alamo were 'pirates,' 'freebooters,' 'fanatics,' 'heretics,' 'adventurers,' 'smugglers,' and 'hairy, wild-eyed rebels' without redeeming qualities, whose vision for 'an independent Texas became viciously racist, devouring every Hispanic to the Rio Grande.' They were 'Manifest Destiny killers...with dirt under their fingernails, lice in their hair...and the stink of ignorant, trigger-pulling white trash.'"
This interpretation is one of modern times. Olson and Roberts disagreed and decided to present the opposing view.
Their book looks at the soldiers in a more admirable light. According to them, the defenders were "a band of brave men whose sacrifice and secrets would shape the destiny of Texas."
"We still consider them heroes," said Olson.
History should not downplay what was done at the Alamo, said Rather. "If you don't have room for the Alamo, we wonder, what do you have room for?" He concludes his favorable review by stating, "'A Line in the Sand's' success rests on how well it accommodates those on all sides of the many debates that surround the events of March 6, 1836. What's more, Messrs. Roberts and Olson have done a commendable job of showing how 'Remember the Alamo!' remains as much a battle cry in America today as it was for the Texan revolutionaries who first gave it voice."
A book signing is planned from 7-9 p.m. March 20 in Room 214 of the Lee Drain Building, and Olson will discuss the book and autograph copies at 7 p.m. April 11 at the Walker Education Center.
Olson is an accomplished professor and administrator, having been the recipient of the university's Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Research awards. He chairs the Department of History, and in 1998 he was named a distinguished professor, the highest academic rank in the university.
This is Olson's first book on the Alamo. He has also written on such subjects as Native Americans, the Spanish Empire, cancer, the New Deal, Vietnam, Catholic immigrants, and John Wayne. The book is from Free Press, Inc. and lists for $26.
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