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"We feel Texas' influence in our lives every day..." Gail Collins

Four and a half OVERALL Stars! (On my second pass through, this excellent book gains one star!) Texas has "way more influence than one-fiftieth of the union deserves" asserts author Gail Collins. She began to pay more attention to the large influence of the Lone Star State in 2009 when the star-crossed presidential hopeful Governor Rick Perry became a political lightning rod throwing around the word "secession" at times. Looking deeper into the matter she now sees Texas as a more highly-influential state than she originally suspected across a number of political and social fronts, but not without its own unique and sometimes self-inflicted problems which she documents in this sometimes humorous, fact-laden book. She is amazed at how we make things 'bigger' in Texas, starting with the state capitol building, and how politicians from Texas are in the front rank of influence on the national legislative and presidential matters, reminding us that a (non-native born) Texan has been President or Vice President 20 of the last 32 years in the person of Bush 41 and 43. She keys in on two cities to explain the "empty place" ethos: Houston, a city that "goes on forever", with no zoning, as a prime example of 'crowded places with empty spaces in between' (and beyond the city limits), where an 'empty spaces' less-government attitude prevails. And Midland, a struggling city on the upswing, that has had its ups and downs riding the prevailing trends for survival. She also sprinkles in words like "passle" and "bidness" (I know no one who talks like that in my 'deep in the heart of Texas' city except TV car dealers). I feel there are tens of millions of city dwellers in Texas who do not have the 'empty-spaces, less-government' attitude, in my humble opinion; if anything we'd like a little more in targeted areas, if you please, but it's easy to see how an outsider (assisted by a few Texan advisors) can get that impression, based on leadership at the state and national level who definitely feel that way.

As a Texan, transplanted here 4 decades ago, I knew she was not going to get the totality of Texas right. She would have to live here for decades and travel all over this picturesque, very complicated, conflicted, politically-charged, very historical, and ultimately for me, enjoyable state. It is simply TOO BIG and a state this big will have big problems. But she has gotten a lot totally right and dug up a 'passle' of very interesting history, facts, colorful personages, and scandal and put it in ONE very engaging book, which starts out informative and humorous and then goes darkly humorous with political and business shenanigans, factoids, and problems. And while some is positive, much is not, thanks (or no thanks) to our politicians, businessmen, and self-serving idiosyncratic polices. Along the wide swath in the book we meet: the "central triangle" of east and central Texas where 60% of the population resides with lots of "empty places" and the questionable "less-government" leadership attitude; states' rights; the reason for the shift from the Democratic to Republican legislative majority; the Texas way of producing jobs; the Enterprise Fund and business growth; Texas' influence on abstinence, sex-education, and "No Child Left Behind"; Enron, regulation and deregulation; where Rick Perry and Phil Gramm started politically; the way Texas, "the largest emitter of carbon dioxide", deals with global warming; Texas tort policy; schools, education, and textbooks; the coming 'majority-Hispanic' Texas; the influence on the Tea Party, and much more including, the quirky 'atheist-prohibition against holding public office' (that was news to me). We, in Texas, know the good far outweighs the bad. Our national influence, proven by this book, good, bad, or in-between: shows "the good" is also drawing in new residents by the millions to our 'state tax free' state (adding four more seats in the House of Representatives) as well as millions of tourists. But not all facts are correct in the book: (e.g. "only elected one Latino to statewide office"? Wrong! I know of at least 5 on the state level and 2 on the national level.) On the positive side, yes, Texas is a definite leader: a huge oil and refinery source, huge natural gas source, second largest economy among the states, largest exporter, and a $100 billion dollar grossing state. Even so, this book is Highly Recommended as an impressive collage of Texas history, customs, personages, influence, concepts, and problems on the state and national level. In the end, author Gail Collins feels wherever Texas is headed, it's taking the rest of the country with it. An outsider's view of the influence of Texas, and do read the national ranking tables in the Appendix closely: "Texas on the Brink: The Texas Legislative Study on the State of Our State". HIghly Recommended. Four and a half ENGROSSING Stars! (Reviewed as a Kindle download of 288 pages ~594 KB in text and text-to-speech modes. Gail Collins is also the author of William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President,1841)
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on April 2, 2015
One of the best books on the topic I have read. Collins gets it totally right in her analysis of what makes the crazy state - and state of mind- of Texas . She is right, too, about how Texas has outsize influence over the rest of our country. Just a brief look at the state school board's textbook approval process reveals that Texas is, well, "a whole 'nother country." When we moved here 9 years ago, I was daily amazed at Texas politics, values, and style. And yet, all those things have become a big part of American identity in recent years. Anyone curious about how national politics and cultural/religious values can be influenced by what begins as local influence, should read this book.
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on April 6, 2013
"As Texas Goes" is a full-throated critique of Texas state policy and the ills it exports to the rest of America. Collins devotes the book to arguing that no matter how good Texas may look to outsiders (e.g. low unemployment, low cost of living, no income tax), it is a actually a blot on the union that parasitically steals other states' companies and college graduates, while foisting upon the country pollution, censored textbooks, and loony Republican politicians.

Collins' argument is easy to follow, if not always convincing. Collins blames Texas for, among other things, the Savings & Loan Crisis, No Child Left Behind, and presidents who "have led the country into every land war . . . since Vietnam." Often, she seems to work backwards; first announcing a conclusion, then presenting one-sided evidence with sarcasm and stale rhetoric. Other times, she abandons even the pretense of serious analysis. For example on page 151, when discussing Texas's pro-business policy, she states, "Perhaps Texas has the recipe for growing the national economy. Great! On the other hand, maybe job growth is mainly due to accidents of the state's location, and the competition is just a way to blackmail other states into bankrupting themselves for no good reason whatsoever expect corporate greed. Of course, the truth could lie somewhere in the middle . . . but for the moment, I'm going with the blackmail-and-bankrupt scenario." This is not how a serious author would write on a complex subject.

This is a short book, but Collins packs in a lot of material and a lot of unoriginal, generalized observations. On page 165 she runs through a familiar "you didn't build that" argument by noting how the federal government funds the interstate highway system, crop subsidies, military bases, and "massive tax credits" for oil production. These policies of course are not unique to Texas, but no matter. Collins wryly concludes this riff by highlighting Texas's lack of gratitude for federal largesse. "Not looking for thanks, really. Or maybe just a little."

In short, if you read Collins in the New York Times and enjoy her writing, you will probably like this book very much. Readers wanting a more thoughtful treatment should look elsewhere. I would have learned much more about Texas from a more open-minded author who is more familiar with the state. Collins admits to being fascinated by Texas's peculiarities, and this shallow curiosity mixed with her obvious scorn makes her a less than trustworthy guide to a state and its people.
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on May 14, 2013
Full disclosure: I'm a Northern liberal and I despise what I know of Texas. That said, this book isn't the place to go for a careful analysis of Texas and/or its (putative) impact on the nation. Certainly the Board of Education impact on textbooks is accurate, I'll give her that. But apart from that, this is just a series of cheap shots written in a hokey-jokey style that I found extremely irritating. Texas may be an extreme example of libertarian excess, but that tendency has been broadly characteristic of much of the US since the late 18th century. I just found this book to be embarrassingly shallow ("embarrassingly" because I'd like to have seen a good analysis of what's wrong with Texas). At the end I had a visceral sensation of having eaten too much cheap candy.
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on August 6, 2012
Much of the information in this book is useful. The research is sound. Some of the conclusions, the relationship between the concept of open space and political ideology, the role that Texas plays in setting the national agenda, are interesting if not completely developed. The writing is poor - choppy, repetitive, simplistic. I wouldn't bother.
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on April 14, 2013
a new yorker writing about Texas, hummm. a person from a place of "entitlement" going to a place that has been said to be full of braggarts. Of all the traveling I've done on the U.S. it seems to me New Yorkers get the first place prize for barging and acting entitled over any other citizen. She also need to recheck her facts ie the pledge children recite in school. when one fact is wrong people question the rest. she also needs to get out of the "larger" cities when doing research.
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The answer, sadly, is yes. And, because the polices of Texas do affect all of us, it is important to learn about those polices.

The author has a laundry list of complaints about Texas, which may be very valid. It is true that the text books written based on what Texas demands are used in other states, which force them to adapt their curriculums to the books, However, many of those states are already headed the way of Texas.

The author has numerous complaints, and is sometimes funny, but at times it borders on being snarky. In addition, while Texas may have a oversized influence on the rest of the country, whose fault is that? We can stop it if we desire.
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on October 29, 2014
I guess if you write for the NYT you can be permitted confusing the casual anecdote with a serious analysis. I was entertained as a non-native, but I didn't think for an instance that I was getting anything like an analytical account. And really, that's a problem. Texas is, like it or not, probably the future in many ways, and how the state chooses to deal with (or ignore) the many challenges and problems it faces will make a difference in the way the country evolves. Collins has the unfortunate tendency to regard Texas as a clown show. It may well be, but the clowns are armed and dangerous. You underestimate them at your peril.
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on May 26, 2014
First of all, the book is listed at 277 pages when actually it is only 197 pages. The other 80 pages are the bibliography, index, excerpts from book reviews, part of an interview Collins did with Dan Rather, and her obligatory "thank you" to all the people who made the publication possible. Second, if you follow the national news on a regular basis, you already know the back-story behind most of the central characters; George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, the Castro brothers, Ted Cruz, etc.. Third, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, all of which are used on a regular basis by Texas politicians at the local, state, & national level. Collins could and should have spent more time exposing the people that actually "cooked" the books to create the "Texas Miracle". She should have spent more time on the "money people" behind the politicians. She could have gone into more detail as to how Texas energy policy, public education policy, unemployment, and workers' compensation policies have spread to other states. I knew things were not as good in Texas as they were being presented to the rest of America, but having read the book, I did not know they were as bad as Collins says they are. My son who just graduated from college with a double major in business, turned down a job with a Dallas oil company starting at $47K a year plus commission & bonuses. When I asked him why, he said it was in Texas..
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VINE VOICEon December 25, 2012
***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review..

As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda has a definite liberal tint, just look at who offers endorsements on the back cover. I can understand the thoughts of some reviewers who call it a Texas hating book written by a liberal. There's not terribly much that Texans would love in this book (although Gail Collins does mention the hospitality and friendliness of Texans.) Then again, I don't think there's much to love about pathetic education, health care, and employment stats presented in this book.

Collins acknowledges that even the framers of much of the controversial legislation laid out in the book probably didn't intend them to be the model of national legislation like banking regulation or No Child Left Behind, but still the reader gets the overwhelming feeling that Texas has done little right since Lyndon Johnson was president. I think Collins makes a perceptive point about bad things happening when a small group of people get to make decisions for everyone. But this book smacks of liberal overtones and the running commentary throughout the book gets old after awhile
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