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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars historian's personal story researching the Texas Revolution
James Crisp provides a unique account of historical research, written in the first person, about doing documentary research - much like a detective - on various aspects of the Texas Revolution. His approach begins with how he was first exposed to Texas history and all its myth and legend as a schoolboy in Texas. His personal experiences with race and segregation then...
Published on December 10, 2004 by mackattack9988

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly for buffs
That Sleuthing the Alamo has no index is a tip-off that this volume is not the sort of academic book usually published by Oxford University Press.

Crisp does two things well here: 1. he carefully unravels the earlier bowdlerizing, mistranslation, and general mishandling of a German memoir of the Texas Revolution by one Herman Ehrenberg, a retelling that puts...
Published on February 25, 2006 by Anson Cassel Mills


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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars historian's personal story researching the Texas Revolution, December 10, 2004
James Crisp provides a unique account of historical research, written in the first person, about doing documentary research - much like a detective - on various aspects of the Texas Revolution. His approach begins with how he was first exposed to Texas history and all its myth and legend as a schoolboy in Texas. His personal experiences with race and segregation then began to mold his worldview and contributed to his academic study of history. Race and Texas continued to be important themes in his professional pursuits, as one chapter shows how Crisp uncovered the real Sam Houston speech to volunteers at Refugio, a speech much different from the one alleged to have been a racist attack against the Mexican opposition. This episode in Sleuthing the Alamo illustrates how history is often more complex than it appears at first glance (even with hindsight) as a document purported to be a genuine record of Houston's speech and relied on by academics was the product of censorship, mistranslation, and embellishment - by four different parties influencing the document itself for over a century. Uncovering the stories behind the allegedly racist Houston speech solidified Crisp's thesis that race was more a consequence than a cause of the Texas Revolution. The Houston speech "detective story" is just the beginning. No doubt the most controversial part of this book will be what Crisp has to say about the de la Pena diary and the fate of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, a subject to which Crisp is no stranger to controversy. He provides a similar rundown of the Yellow Rose of Texas legend in the afterword, but the final verdict on that legend seems less well settled by comparison, and it appears to in fact remain under investigation. Overall, an extremely readable book that will capture anyone interested in Texas history, the Alamo, the role of legend in culture, and the process of historical documentary research.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not For The Novice Alamo Reader, March 16, 2005
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King Richard "CoeurDeLion" (Live Oak, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
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If you're looking for your basic action-filled tale of land-grabbing "foreigners" valiantly holding their ground for 13 days against the "bloodthirsty" hordes of Mexican soldiers at the shrine of Texas independence, this book definitely is NOT for you. More of a thin, scholarly piece (less than 200 pages of actual text) this is more for the person who knows something about the battle of the Alamo and has read other books on the subject. Crisp's main thesis is well-thought-out; notably that many of the past injustices in Alamo writing have their roots in racist attitudes perpetuated from the 1800's following the fall of the Alamo and which are today, to some extent, still prevalent.

Beginning with his childhood we are shown how even he, a native of Texas, was exposed to those racist attitudes and it was not until his late teens that he came to realize that just because a person's skin is a different color doesn't mean they are a bad person. Yet this attitude, he explains, was what gave the native Tejanos in Texas the proverbial "short end of the stick" when discussing the Alamo. As a result, what we get is more a story of personal discovery and education wrapped around the Alamo narrative.

If you aren't familiar with the controversy surrounding such items as the de la Pena diaries (one Mexican soldier's account of the battle) and are simply looking to find out how good old Davy (he preferred David) Crockett died, there are other books on the market which should no doubt be read first. If, on the other hand, as mentioned before, you're well-versed in the Alamo battle and lore, you'll want to pick up this most recent Alamo book.

Gets 4 stars instead of 5 mostly due to length since it seems there are other areas Crisp could have discussed as well. Eminently readable, you can read it in one sitting with no problem.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly for buffs, February 25, 2006
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Anson Cassel Mills (Lake Santeetlah, NC) - See all my reviews
That Sleuthing the Alamo has no index is a tip-off that this volume is not the sort of academic book usually published by Oxford University Press.

Crisp does two things well here: 1. he carefully unravels the earlier bowdlerizing, mistranslation, and general mishandling of a German memoir of the Texas Revolution by one Herman Ehrenberg, a retelling that puts anti-Mexican sentiments into the mouth of Sam Houston, and 2. he defends the authenticity of a diary of a Mexican soldier, Jose Enrique de la Pena, which (among other merited swipes at Santa Anna) asserts that the general ordered Davy Crockett's murder after the latter was taken prisoner at the fall of the Alamo.

Around these two themes are wrapped the author's musings about his Texas childhood and the racism once de rigueur in Texas elementary schools, as well as speculations about the Yellow Rose of Texas and overly solemn assessments of silly missives Crisp and his predecessors received from amateur defenders of received wisdom about the Texas Revolution.

If you're a Texas Revolution buff and already have a command of its controversies and primary sources, this is an important book. If you have limited interest in Sam Houston's views of Mexicans or in how Davy Crockett died, then you'll probably find Sleuthing the Alamo of marginal interest.

It's a poor historian whose juices don't flow when he's on the hunt for documentary shenanigans. But it takes an unusual one to make a coherent narrative out of the search.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great example of how the historian's work should be done, May 24, 2005
This review is from: Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (New Narratives in American History) (Paperback)
Books like this are one of the reason I love reading history. A partisan of neither the traditional interpretations of Texas history nor of the newer "revisionist" narrative that explains the events of the 1830s as nothing but a race war, Crisp dives deep into some critical primary sources, showing how they have been largely misinterpreted throughout the dialectical debate. Facts may be immutable things, but it's the historian's job to weave them into a narrative (p. 183) and to deliver that narrative to a broader public (p. 188). Facts can only be understood in that broader context. And when our context changes, so too must our narrative. In that sense, this little volume sets off some pretty big explosions in the way Texan history should be understood.

But more than just a great work of history, this is also a memoir that ranks with Martin Gilbert's In Search of Churchill - A Historian's Journey as a sterling example of how a fine historian does his job. In contrast to those who think history can ever be a "nailed-shut" case (Henry Clausen and his Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement come to mind), Crisp displays the curiosity, perseverance, skills -- I'm shocked to discover there are apparently serious writers on early Texas history who can't read Spanish -- and skepticism that kept him digging deeper into the historical record.

This is a fascinating work of history that, to use the obvious and inevitable comparison, is as interesting and exciting as a well-crafted detective story. But it's also a wonderful example of how the historian's work should be performed. For that reason, I would heartily recommend this book, not only to students of the Texas revolution, but to anyone interested in the theory and practice of historiography.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting historical read about the Alamo and myths, September 6, 2006
For so many reasons, it is difficult for Americans (or any nation's people) to face up to what may be the truth versus the "mythology" that they believe and/or were taught to believe. Mythical, larger than life figures give us a sense of purpose and pride. James Crisp deals with just such an issue with David Crockett and how he died at the Battle of the Alamo.

Did Crockett die in the Alamo fighting until his last breath? Did he die after being captured? Are the de la Pena diaries real, and if so, did Crockett die the way de la Pena says he died? People have lashed out at Crisp for his book, but his arguments are solid and he is willing to look at all sides of the issues about the Alamo, the battle that took place there, and the legend of David Crockett.

It's a short read, but well written and worth the time to learn more about Texas History and the realities of the Battle at the Alamo.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing Facts about the Alamo, the Texas Revoloution with Social History of Texas, October 28, 2006
By 
This book covers a variety of Alamo subjects but the obvious most fascinating chapters are on what really happened to Davy Crocket at the Alamo. Was he really one of a half dozen survivors that were forced to surrender and then promptly executed? Besides this fascinating study are five primary subjects of interest. The first is a social history centering on the treatment of Hispanics in Texas after the revolution, the second chapter on a Sam Houston controversy, the next centers on Santa Anna and the Alamo and the presumed capture of Davey Crockett, followed by a detaile historical sleuthing of the facts around Crockett's alleged capture, a section on whether there really was a woman literally having a tryst with Santa Anna at San Jacinto to keep him occupied while the Texans maneuvered into a surprise attack and the final section covers the evolution of portraits about the Alamo that creates the Custer like "Last Stand" presentation as well providing a negative portryal of the Mexican army. A small book loaded with fascinating analysis that starts with Crip's social study of Hispanic prejudice based on his own child hood experiences and education supplied by actual cartoons from books of his youthful era that reflect negatively on Hispanics and black Americans. The study indicates that over time, the Tejanos participation in Texas independence was forgotten not too long after victory. Houston's chapter focuses on a speech to Texas forces in an attempt to persuade them not to prematurely invade deep into Mexico. A historical presentation of that speech indicates that Houston used deragatory references to their Hispanic associates. Crisp challenges the references leading him to the only original recording of the speech made by a Prussian Texan who wrote the version in German. Crisp's findings reveals a new interpretation of that speech. The Crockett mystery is a virtual detective historical study. Much was written about the de la Pena diaries/book that states that Crockett survived with six others. Although de la Pena was an officer serving with Santa Anna and claimed to be a witness to the Alamo's final capitulation, his diaries were only recently discovered and many historians claimed that they were either fraudulent or fiction. Crisp does an incredulous job of research addressing the alleged inconsistencies but he also determined other witnesses and testimonies that address the same subject. This is the most exciting part of the book as many still remember the famous portraits with Davey Crockett swinging his rifle to the end or in mid century, Fess Parker fighting to the death in the Disney Crockett version. Well presented and virtually satisfying, you will have to read the book to enjoy the end of the mystery. The final chapter studying the evolution of the Alamo as a virtual shrine reminds me of Paul Hutton's study of the "Little Bighorn" in his book "The Custer Reader". This is a unique and satisfying book but remember it is a social history mixed with the Alamo study. The meat of the Crockett mystery is dead center in the book, previous sections build toward that and other mysteries. One thing I think the author was only slightly remiss in, if Crockett and a small company were captured, it does not make them any less heroic. They stayed when they had the option to leave and they fought Santa Anna's army for 13 days until the Alamo's defenders were overwhelmed. They will always remain heroic as we "Remember the Alamo!"
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How did Davy die?, February 28, 2005
This extremely well written book just does not concentrate on the facts of the Texas Revolution in general, and the battle of the Alamo in particular. It is, rather, a record of the author's personal journey to discover the facts and the truth about what happened in 1835-36 Texas. We follow along almost breathlessly as he navigates through many contradictory opinions, and works himself into a place where he feels that he has found a truth that conforms with his researches. He is not so bumptious as to assume that his truth is the truth, but it suffices for him based upon his research. It's a fascinating journey, and we learn many new things about the Texas Revolt against Mexico, and what may have ben the ultimate fate of Davy Crockett at, or after, the battle for the Alamo. Perhaps we will never know with certainty what exactly happened, but for now I am content to accept the author's conclusions, until something different, and more convincing, comes along.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rewriting The Alamo-Again., November 17, 2010
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This review is from: Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (New Narratives in American History) (Paperback)
There is nothing new in this book. "Sleuthing the Alamo" is a carefully and thoroughly researched work. Unfortunately, the book's agenda is not to provide any new evidence of what happened at the Alamo. In fact, the material at hand simply rehashes many of the theories and speculative works that have sought over the years to recount the events of March 1836. What is different about this effort is the oppressive, relentless effort on the part of the author to recast this piece of Texas and American history as largely an exercise in American racism. Every event, every actor on the non-Mexican side is seen through the prism of racism. The author is shameless in his attempt to reinterpret virtually every aspect of the Alamo saga as evidence of crushing racial prejudice on the part of everyone involved. In this 'rexamnining', all the actors on the non-Mexican side of events are driven at their core by a contempt and general lack of respect for both their Mexican allies and opponents. There are no noble motives, no honorable men, simply bad people with no respect or interest in the Mexican population. Prominent among the cast of newly branded principals is Sam Houston, now revealed as a racist of the first order. The Author repeatedly injects himself into the sometimes already cluttered narrative, defending himself and his views. If you are looking for new, factual, insights, this is not the book. If you subscribe to the continuing, progressive goal of degrading and devaluing American history, you will be encouraged by this effort.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look at what a historian does, September 19, 2013
By 
This review is from: Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (New Narratives in American History) (Paperback)
This is one of those books that on the cover seems to be one thing, and inside, in its pages, turns out to be something else. James Crisp is a Yale grad who teaches history in North Carolina, but he's a native Texan. As a result he's fascinated by the Texas Revolution, and the myths, rumors, and misconceptions that have permeated it in the years since. This book, however isn't really about the Texas Revolution, though many of the reviews here seem to be by people who think that's the book's subject. Instead, it's really about the craft, art, and science of being a historian: comparing sources, tracking down leads, finding new documents, comparing competing narratives of the same series of events, etc. Crisp recounts, in four short chapters, several different issues of trivia that lurk within the mythology of the Siege of the Alamo, carefully examining each. You learn a lot about a Mexican soldier named de la Pena, who kept a diary and rewrote it as a book which wasn't published for more than a century after his death. You also get to go over in exquisite detail several accounts of Davy Crockett's death (including that of de la Pena, lost for more than a century), and you also get a discussion of the iconography of Crockett being killed. There are 2 different paintings by artists that were rivals, both showing Crockett's last moments; one hangs in Texas' Governor's Mansion, the other in the State House. The author does a compare and contrast thing, noting that one of the paintings mirrors rather closely the most famous of the "Custer's Last Stand" pictures, the one that appeared in saloons across the country for most of a century.

The result is a fascinating look at how historians assemble the narrative that they're crafting, sorting through the evidence, trying to figure out the provenance of documents and their authenticity. It's a very short book, just about 200 pages, but I have to say I enjoyed every word.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent detective story., February 14, 2005
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The author's enjoyable account of his personal perspective derived from growing up in Texas is further enhanced by some excellent detective work on historical questions. The author makes a compelling case endorsing de la Pena's history of the Mexican army's loss of Texas (de la Pena was an officer under Santa Anna who roundly criticized Santa Anna for poor military judgment, including a denunciation of Santa Anna's decision to attack the Alamo as a wasteful expenditure of Mexican lives to achieve glory for Santa Anna with no real military value). The author also examines the circumstances of Davy Crockett's demise at the Alamo, and suggests the commonly held view of how it happened may not be the accurate one. Well worth the read.
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Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (New Narratives in American History)
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