As with a few of my other books, this one originated with the publisher. At first they didn’t want a big scholarly monster going back to original sources, but after working with Free Press for a while, I realized they don’t do light fare. My wonderful editor there, Bruce Nichols, had just placed a finalist for the National Book Award, and I felt the pressure to pull my weight.
Of all my books, this one came the closest to killing me. Its seven-year gestation, and the fact that it even missed the first catalog announcing it after I swore to have it in, no doubt tempted Bruce to send a hit man to Austin. Ultimately, the book proved to be a Rubik’s Cube. I had four jobs to do: I had to tell all the relevant history, I had to be witty and often funny, I needed to have new information on almost every page, and I had to hold the finished book to 500 pages. Any three I could do, but not all four. What eventually broke was the length, and the finished book was close to 650 pages.
I was also surprised at finding a number of original sources that had been overlooked in writing the previous histories—diaries and letters that added wonderful spice and detail. And I was shocked by the degree to which Texas history had become shrink-wrapped into a kind of liturgy that we all know and chant in school, but which left out vivid, fascinating people to whom I had the freedom to bend the narrative to include. Many of them were women, and that was very satisfying to give them their due.
People ask about the title. When John Steinbeck wrote his wonderful Travels with Charlie, he said something very telling about Texas, that “like most passionate nations, Texas has its own private history based on, but not limited by, facts.” That slightly tongue-in-cheek tone was exactly what the Free Press wanted from the book, so it was a natural title.
“A hugely entertaining read … humanizes the eras and events of Texas’ past with a keen eye for the poignant, often humorous, always colorful moment.” Dallas Morning News
Haley steps boldly and without apology into Texas’ past. His self-assurance is supported by a highly readable, almost breezy prose that guides the reader through a story as dense as the Big Thicket; but, thanks to economical chapters and clear organization, it is much more comfortable to traverse. It’s also aided by a writing ethos that is well informed, erudite, free of sentimentality or defensive bluster, and amazingly comprehensive in its scope. Texas Books in Review
“The first general history of Texas to appear in 40 years, Haley’s work bears both human-interest immediacy and collection-development significance.” Booklist
“An epic, 600-page history ranging from Cabeza de Vaca to David Koresh. But it’s a breezy read, shot through with Haley’s livewire personality. And, let’s just say, it’s not your father’s Texas history.” San Antonio Express-News
“Passionate Nation is a clear-eyed history of great achievements, great sins, and great stories.” Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
“This is no metronomic trek through history. Haley spins out his tale more as a folksy romp … replete with humorous asides, ironic commentary, and sometimes uproarious and nearly forgotten anecdotes; it’s a slow but rich read, intellectually rewarding and highly entertaining … well informed, erudite and astonishingly comprehensive.” Houston Chronicle
“With this rich and entertaining history, Haley adds his name, indelibly, to the list of native writers his state should rightfully be proud of.” Publishers Weekly
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