Can you recommend a good book about Dallas history. A.W.
Whenever my father would have a new employee or a new neighbor move in from out of state, he would recommend four books that they should read to better acquaint themselves with Dallas and Texas (they’re listed at the bottom along with several others). He’d pass along these four books because there was never just one book that he thought provided a good history in a “just the facts ma’am” way. No text book that gave a clear and concise history of the town, nor one that could describe it’s people and the culture of Dallas and Texas. There are plenty of reasons why, but that’s a different story and different question.
Never the less, below are several histories of Dallas and other books that helps one understand Dallas;
My Father’s recommendations:
North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent, 1973 – Gent, a former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver, wrote this novel about a “fictional” football team in Dallas (but not named the Cowboys, wink wink). His style mirrors Hunter S. Thompson (including the drinking, drugs, and sex) and it’s perhaps the best look inside the Landry Cowboys and life as a Cowboy.
Helps to Understand: The Dallas Cowboys, Counter-Culture in Dallas of the 60’s
Goodbye to a River by John Graves, 1960 – As the wild rivers of Texas were being dammed to build lakes for drinking water in postwar Texas, Graves headed off down one of those rivers, the Brazos, in a canoe with little else but a faithful dog, a .22 rifle, some coffee and whiskey. Both an eloquent writer and a rustic individualist in a Thoreau type of way, Graves wrote about his journey down the river and relayed the history of the area.
Helps to Understand: Texas Nature and Wildlife, The Frontier Spirit of North Texas
Friday Night Lights, H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger – By now everyone knows about Friday Night Lights, but more for the TV show and it’s acting then the original book based on a tiny west Texas town in 1989. Even if you’ve seen the show and the movie, you need to read the book.
Helps to Understand: Texas High School Football, Tiny Towns that surround Dallas
Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer, 1961 – a former staff member for Lyndon Johnson, Brammer wrote a series of short novels that revolve around a masterful but “fictional” politician in Texas (totally not LBJ, wink wink). Much like what Gent’s novel did for pro football, Brammer’s book gives a great inside eye to politics in Texas. While politics have changed some since the 60’s, it’s pretty still much the same good ol’ boy network.
Helps to Understand: LBJ, Politics in Texas, how things in the state capital get done
Other great books about Dallas, Texas
Dallas Public and Private by Warren Leslie, 1964 – There are thousands of books about the JFK assassination; however this is the book that details Dallas’s role in the assassination. The political and cultural atmosphere of the city and the civic leaders at the time and its effect, if any on Ruby, Oswald the rest of the players.
Helps to Understand: JFK, The City’s Guilt, Culture of Midcentury Dallas
Dallas U.S.A., by A.C. Green 1984 – Green, a former columnist and editor at the Dallas Times Herald, wrote this history of Dallas while the TV show “Dallas” was big. It’s in part a defense of Dallas against the stereotype of the TV show. It’s also a pretty good history up to the 80’s, though it reads a little like a history of Dallas written by someone who lives in Richardson.
Helps to Understand: Dallas throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the people who built the underground tunnels in downtown Dallas
The Lusty Texans of Dallas, John William Rogers, 1950 – This might be my favorite book about Dallas history solely because how Rogers turns a phrase, like, “the Dallas Opera House undramatically burned down,” or “a stocky man whom the years have inclined to plumpness” or my favorite, the gentleman “must have clowns in his ancestry because he finds a great deal about life amusing.”
Helps to Understand: Early Dallas History, The Influx of Oil Money on Dallas, How Dallas Grew-Up
The WPA Dallas Guide and History, circa 1930’s republished 1993 – A good collection of facts and some stories from the early years of Dallas. Some very good, some not so much, and some totally out of left field or blatantly racist. Entertaining if nothing else and worth your time. Be sure to read addition sources to verify some info in it.
Helps to Understand: Early Dallas History, Culture of depression era Dallas, Dallas Folklore
Big D by Darwin Payne, 1994 – Might be the closest thing to a textbook about Dallas. Focuses more on politics and politicians more then arts, culture, sports, and the life of the people of Dallas. It can be laborious at times to get through, and ends up a little heavy on the Citizen’s Council, the unelected civic leaders of Dallas that has run the show for 70 years.
Helps to Understand: Politics in Dallas, the Citizen’s Council
The Accommodation, by Jim Schutze, 1987 – Schutze, a former writer for the Times Herald and current Observer columnist, wrote probably the most definitive history of race and politics in Dallas. In short, his book details the bribes of white business men and the selling out of black community leaders throughout Dallas history, particularly in the civil rights era. Might not be completely accurate but mostly correct. Schutze signed over the rights of the book to John Wiley Price, an African American community leader shortly after publication to promote better relations. Shutze and Price have since had a falling out and Price refuses to grant permission for additional printings, hence the book’s scarcity.
Helps to Understand: Race in Dallas, Race in Dallas Politics, the Civil Right Era in Dallas.
It’s a shame these two guys can’t get along
Now there are of course plenty of other books about Dallas, like the Dallas Myth, Big D is for Dallas, Dallas Cowboys 50 Years of Football and most recently Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by the great Ben Foundation. I’d recommend them, but I can’t talk about them much because I haven’t read them and don’t feel right pontificating about them.