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A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory Paperback – May 9, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In John Wayne, American, the authors brilliantly explicated the American myths embodied by Wayne as much as they shed light on the man himself. This book does the same thing, but for a less directly anthropomorphic metaphor: the Battle of the Alamo. Roberts and Olson, historians at Purdue and Sam Houston State respectively, do not think the Texas Revolution of 1836 was motivated by racism and ethnocentrism, as many recent scholars do, but find it legitimately rooted in conflicting views of political freedom and individual rights. The Texans' rebellion against Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had many contemporary counterparts elsewhere in Mexico, undertaken for similar political principles, but forgotten because they failed. After addressing the details of the siege (including Davy Crockett's death), they turn to Alamo myth making, from Adina de Zavala's "near religious love for Texas and its heroes" to the familiar 1954-1955 Disney TV series that made the Alamo a national shrine. For Cold War viewers, they argue, the Alamo and Davy Crockett in particular symbolized truth, justice and sacrifice for a noble cause; Wayne's 1960 feature film The Alamo cemented the image. The authors' account of the continual conflicts over the physical and the mythical elements of the legend establishes the Alamo as a focal point of a wider struggle to define, and therefore to control, America's past. (Jan.) Forecast: John Wayne, American generated plenty of television and text punditry on the actor's place in the American mythos. While the Alamo is a less seductive subject, it remains a contentious site. This book will be well reviewed, and could certainly play a role in the closer examination of Texas that the possible (as of this writing) Bush presidency would bring.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The trouble with the past is that it keeps changing, an affliction especially true of symbols that some venerate and others denounce. "Remember the Alamo"--as all Texans do--may keep history alive, but what one remembers elides easily into one's politics. In a vibrant two-part treatment, historians Roberts and Olson present a solid summary of the Texas Revolution of 1835-36, followed by a critique of the cultural afterlife of the bloody battle at San Antonio. As the authors argue, many of the details popularly believed about the battle are historiographically suspect, yet they are crucial to the conception of William Travis and his comrades as defenders of liberty. As distilled vessels of virtue, Travis, Crockett, and the others were ready-made for the mass-marketing purposes of Walt Disney; and John Wayne's The Alamo (1960) verily proclaimed the Duke's conservative political outlook. Astute and pointed, the authors' appraisal of such uses of the battle proceeds to its contemporary life as a football in the Tejano-Anglo politics of Texas. An exceedingly well written and thought-provoking cultural history. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (May 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743212339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743212335
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #562,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I write books that I would like to read, stories about sports and film icons who had an impact on American history. People like John Wayne, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali. My most recent books have explored the role that college football players and coaches have played during times of national crisis. Just published is "Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, and Dixie's Last Quarter," a book I wrote with Ed Krzemienski. It details the relationship between Bear Bryant and Joe Namath during the early 1960s, a time of CIvil Rights struggles, a violent backlash, and the emergenge of Alabama as the finest football team in the nation. It features two iconic personalities fighting for victories on the field and their careers off the field.

In 2011 I published "A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation." It's the story of a West Point football team during World War II, striving to win a national championship before they shipped off to the battle front. It was their last chance to be boys before the nation demanded that they be men. During the months between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge the team gave the millions of American soldiers around the world something to celebrate. After their last game General Douglas MacArthur wired Coach Red Blaik, "THE GREATEST OF ALL ARMY TEAMS. WE HAVE STOPPED THE WAR TO CELEBRATE YOUR MAGNIFICENT SUCCESS."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable book that both tells the story of the siege and battle of the Alamo and the development of the myth and symbol of the Alamo in Texan and American memory. The account of the Texas revolution and siege are balanced and scrupulous, carefully distinguishing between what we know and we infer. That account makes up the first half of the book. The second half relates the cultural history of Alamo preservation and its place in the current "culture wars" and revisionist history. An interesting account of the making of both the Disney "Davy Crockett" series and John Wayne's "The Alamo" feature in this latter half. I recommend the book highly. The history of the siege and battle is fairer and more balanced here than in Jeff Long's "Duel of Eagles."
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on May 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is like a recipe for goulash; you just throw everything in it and see how it turns out. Actually, it's a very good book, although it tends to be overwritten in places and there are one or two incorrect dates. It gives a concise history of Mexico in the early part of the 19th century leading up to the Texas War for Independence, and what followed. Everything is presented quite clearly, and you can understand how things happened, and why they happened. The actual Alamo seige and battle pass fairly quickly, because that's how it was in reality. I found the later history extremely interesting, and combining LBJ's father, Walt Disney, John Wayne, and numerous others in the story was an excellent decision on the part of the authors. I'm of the generation raised on Davy Crockett, and my friends and I recreated the Alamo battle countless times on the cinderblock wall in my back yard, each of us taking turns as Davy. If nothing else, Disney's film of Crockett's life awakened in me the idea of history as something interesting, and worth studying. I've done that ever since, and the authors show that the Alamo is ingrained in our national consciousness because of Uncle Walt primarily, and also John Wayne's movie, which I vividly remember seeing as a young teenager. To those of a new generation, who don't have those memories of the Alamo films, this book is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William L. Gilstrap on May 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a rather complete overview of all or most of the legends and myths about the Alamo, as well as a pretty good coverage of the things that are accepted as historical facts. It also goes into the legends, and historical records about the major characters involved in the battle and the politics of the time. It shows the Mexican side of things as well as the Texan side. There is an in-depth discussion of the impact of the Alamo on Texas and the United States, also Mexico. There is a lot about the specific way the most famous Alamo defenders died, especially "Davy" Crockett. It is said that Crockett was not killed in the battle, but surrendered and was executed by Santa Anna. It discusses the issues that came up about preserving the Alamo and the fights made by two ladies in the effort to preserve it. There was also a political fight between the two ladies for control of the destiny of the buildings. That was called the "Second Battle of the Alamo". The book discusses the movies about the subject and goes into depth about John Wayne's efforts in making the movie, "The Alamo", the work, politics, etc. involved and the reception of the movie. "Line in the Sand" then discusses the modern idea of scorn about the Alamo and the resentment of some people who consider it a shrine to imperial land grabbing and racial prejudice. It finishes with a discussion of the Alamos effect on Presidents and other politicians. This is a pretty unbiased look at all sides of the atmosphere leading to the battle, the battle itself and a lot of the effects since the battle. It seems to cover all sides of every issue concerning the Alamo.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Scott Ezzell on September 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
I was assigned to read this in a Texas history class at UT Arlington. So I expected it to be the typical politically correct, leftist, white-bashing I'd grown so accustomed to. I was pleasantly surprised. This book is honest and fair with all sides. It's what historians should strive for because it doesn't take sides. Roberts goes after truth, no matter who gets offended. And yes, sometimes that's the Mexicans. I was shocked to learn all about how Col. Travis abandoned his family, but I was impressed by his courage to the end. Now I feel certain that Santa Ana is the worst thing that ever happened to Mexico. And some of his generals were skilful enough to have won the war and honorable enough to have not executed Texas POWs. I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to understand this major piece of American history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By W. Wood on February 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Basically, a historian's role is to answer the "Five Ws" of history: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? Once you answer those questions the other pieces should fall into place. As any graduate student of history can tell you after writing his or her first term paper, it isn't always that easy.

For one thing sources can conflict in interpretations of events. Even eyewitness accounts of the same event can contradict one another due to different perspectives (one person was at "point A" another was at "point B"), interpretation of those events, or bias. Even then, memories are imperfect things, details blur with time, sometimes perspectives and biases slip in. All too often, witnesses have been known to slant the facts to favor their cause, or for self-serving motives. In very few historical events has this been more evident than at the Alamo. As has been often said, "Thermopolae had its messenger, the Alamo had none."

The facts of the case seem straightforward enough, in early 1836 187 (or was it, 200 or 225?) volunteers from Texas, various parts of the United States and even Europe held off an much larger Mexican Army of 5000 (or was it 3,000 or 2,500), under the command of General Santa Anna for thirteen days. The seige ended on March 6, 1836 when the Mexican Army attacked. All the defenders died in the assault.

Seems simple, doesn't it? History is rarely that cut and dried. Re-interpretations of the battle have abounded, with this book the authors have attempted to sift through the conflicting stories, the opposing agendas involved in re-telling and re-shaping the truths and the myths of the battle to give the reader an objective perspective to draw his/her own conclusion on what happened and what it meant.
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