Best Books That Help You Understand Dallas

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:

NorthDallasFortybkcvr 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


GoodbyeToARiver_web 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

fnl_cover_195 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

finch2-8-11-1Gay 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

dallaspublicandprivateDallas 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

41n3D4YqaAL__SL500_SY300_ 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

$(KGrHqJ,!hoFETEUPmQsBRIUkCSPiw~~60_35 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

$(KGrHqF,!q0E-ZStHzMYBP5CyBjTCw~~_35 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

956094 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-acccommocation1 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.

Lawn  JWP

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.





Why the Cowboys are called “America’s Team”

Why do the Dallas Cowboys call themselves America’s Team, kinda presumptuous for a mediocre team to do that isn’t it. –  KZ from Chicago

Well obviously you’re not a Cowboys fan.  But in short the answer is that throughout the 1960’s, 70’s 80’s and 90’s the Cowboys were both extremely successful AND extremely marketable.


The Team that was first called America’s Team (

The term was coined in 1978 by NFL Films.  They were producing an end of the year highlight film, and were looking for a nickname for the Cowboys.  It was the late 1970’s and football was coming into its own as a sport.  Though pro football had been around for a number of years, the 70’s saw huge gains in popularity for the sport.  This was in part because football, more than any other professional sport; looks and plays great on TV.  And the Cowboys, in particular looked and played great on TV more than anyone else.


The 1978 “America’s Team” included your balding Uncle, Questlove’s cousin, and a porn star.

In 1978, the Cowboys had just finished their 12th consecutive winning season, a streak that would hit ultimately hit 20.  In those 20 years they made the playoffs 18 times, both are records.  They owned their conference, the NFC, playing in the NFC championship every other year for over thirty years.  In the 1970’s they played in as many Super Bowls as all the other teams in the NFC combined.

But they weren’t just successful in transformative years of the NFL, they were marketable.  They had that iconic Blue Star on their helmet, one of the most recognizable sports logos worldwide.

dallas-cowboys-helmet-logo-e1325797190394-250x192 People on tiny islands in the Pacific know what this is (

They played in a stadium that unlike many in the NFL was also recognizable.  The not quite a doom, not quite an open air stadium that looked like it had a hole on the roof.  That hole by the way was put there so that , as linebacker D.D. Lewis said, so “  God can watch His favorite team play.”  Now that’s presumptuous.

Texas%20Stadium-dallas ob Why God had to put a hole in the roof to see is beyond me(

As for the players, the teams of the late 60’s and 70’s included a Heisman Trophy winner (and future hall of fame) running back, and another Heisman Trophy winner at Quarterback who just so happened to be a Navy War Hero (also a hall of famer).  At Wide Receiver, they had a bona fided track star.  As in a Olympic Gold Medal winner, literally the world’s fastest man.  Bob Hayes, Or Bullet Bob Hayes was the  Usain Bolt of his generation who then also became Calvin Johnson, (not to be confused with Navin R. Johnson).  Of course they also had true blue western cowboys, Danny Dons, members of the Rodeo Hall of Fame, the author of whats considered the best novel ever about professional football, Tonight Show guest hostslotto winners, pro wrestlers, and other assorted characters.

As coach they also had one of the best known hat wearing man in the western world…Tom Landry


So by 1978, when NFL Films was trying to think of a nickname, they realized that no matter where they went to film the Cowboys on their road games, there were always Cowboy fans.  The Cowboys also played more national TV games than anyone else, including the Monday Night games and the Thanksgiving Day games. When foreigners were asked to name an American football team, the Cowboys were named most often and their Blue Starred helmets identified.  The Cowboys had become the most popular team in the NFL, so if football was quickly becoming America’s new past time, the Cowboys were becoming America’s Team.

0123_largeSports Illustrated, back when the cover was edited by 7 year olds

The name has stuck in part because of the wave of successful and the characters of the 1990s.  If the Cowboys had only been successful and charismatic in the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s, the name may have faded.  But in the 1990’s, football’s second boom time with the explosion of cable tv, espn, highlight shows, and fantasy football; the Cowboys were just as successful and just as marketable as they were in the earlier years.


Available on ebay for a small fortune

They’d play in three Super Bowls in the 90’s making the playoffs eight times, their quarterback, Troy Aikman would win more games in that decade than any other quarterback in history had and would date America’s sweetheart in the early 90’s Nancy Kerrigan.  They also had a fur coats wearing Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith the all time leading rusher NFL history, and their biggest free agent of the time was nicknamed, “PrimeTime”  for his antics.  He also had a rap song…it’s awesome. It inlcudes the lyrics…”Hey, my snakeskin shoes gonna change into gators- Hey, my library cards gonna change into credit cards”

deion1992skyboxprimetime Deion’s Poster c2_24343_0_PrimeTimeNFLStarringDeionSande Deion’s Game

And though the Cowboys have not had the success they had in the 60’s, 70’s 80’s or 90’s, they do still have this.


Which should make America’s Team forever