Finalist, 2021 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award
For John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, there was one simple rule in politics: “You’ve got to bloody your knuckles.” It’s a maxim that applies in so many ways to the state of Texas, where the struggle for power has often unfolded through underhanded politicking, backroom dealings, and, quite literally, bloodshed. The contentious history of Texas politics has been shaped by dangerous and often violent events, and been formed not just in the halls of power but by marginalized voices omitted from the official narratives.
A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles traces the state’s conflicted and dramatic evolution over the past 150 years through its pivotal political players, including oft-neglected women and people of color. Beginning in 1870 with the birth of Texas’s modern political framework, Bill Minutaglio chronicles Texas political life against the backdrop of industry, the economy, and race relations, recasting the narrative of influential Texans. With journalistic verve and candor, Minutaglio delivers a contemporary history of the determined men and women who fought for their particular visions of Texas and helped define the state as a potent force in national affairs.
Bill Minutaglio is a Pen Center Literary Award–winning author of ten books, including Dallas 1963 and First Son, the first biography of George W. Bush. He has been a reporter, columnist, and editor for the three largest newspapers in Texas, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, and i, among other publications.
Smoothly tackling this near-herculean research task, [Minutaglio] keeps the sweat stains from showing and writes in prose as cool as a trout stream.
~New York Times
What's striking about [A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles]...is [Minutaglio's] ability to resurrect not only the marquee names we would expect to find in a history of Texas politics (famous and infamous) but also fascinating names that have faded into the fog of history.
[Minutaglio] delivers a vibrant political history of Texas from the 1870s to the 2020 presidential election...Minutaglio packs his brisk history with entertaining anecdotes...and keeps a close eye on the ways that Black and Latino voters have been marginalized by Texas power brokers. This is a rollicking and richly detailed portrait of the Lone Star state.
A readable, even rollicking survey of a century and a half of political conflict...A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles does the vital work of presenting to a general audience a powerful argument for the centrality of race in the past, present, and future of Texas politics.
[An] engaging new work... A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles is a noteworthy, timely, and well-written addition to the continuing debates over politics and race in Texas.
~Lone Star Literary Life
Minutaglio is one of the greatest living prose stylists in the land, including lands outside Texas...Starting in 1870 and working up to the present, Minutaglio has produced the best book about the intersection of race and politics throughout Texas history.
~San Antonio Express-News
Bill Minutaglio is the ultimate spirit guide through the chaotic, raw, eternally grasping but occasionally semi-uplifting struggle for dominance in Texas. He has lived through and reported on many of the wild events and personalities that he has so elegantly depicted in this book. In the years to come A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles will be the go-to volume for readers who dare to peek under the hood of Texas politics to have a closer look at the driving pistons of money, power, and race that keep this infernal engine running.
~Stephen Harrigan, author of Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas
Texas is a Southern state and a Western state, a populist state and a business state, an intolerant state and a diverse state. Nobody is better equipped to make sense of Texas in all its largeness and complexity than Bill Minutaglio. A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles is the best guide we have to the history of politics and race in Texas.
~Nicholas Lemann, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, The New Yorker, and author of Transaction Man: Traders, Disrupters, and the Dismantling of Middle-Class America
Ever hear of Jovita Idar, the young South Texas newspaper publisher who faced down a contingent of Texas Rangers? How about Norris Wright Cuney, the astute African American political activist from Galveston? Or the women’s rights activist Ellen Lawson Dabbs? Or Robert L. Smith of Waco, the last African American state legislator until Barbara Jordan was elected to the state senate nearly three-quarters of a century later? In this deeply researched, immensely readable history of race and politics in Texas, Bill Minutaglio resurrects these and other memorable Texans who deserve a more prominent place in the annals of the state. Minutaglio has always been an engaging writer, whether exploring the birth of the blues in Texas or re-creating for his readers the horrific 1947 dockside explosion in Texas City. In A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles, his masterpiece, he shifts history’s kaleidoscope, bringing to vivid life a revisionist view of the Lone Star State, a Texas most of us never knew.
~Joe Holley, author of Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town
Even if you don’t live in Texas, this overview of the state’s history from the 1870s to the 2020 presidential election will have you thinking about the South in a whole new way.
[A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles] offers a well-rounded look at the complexities of race and politics, as well as the various characters involved. Minutaglio is to be commended for adding to the underrepresented topics of race and politics in post-civil war Texas historiography.
~Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Bill Minutaglio has a written an excellent (and thoroughly readable) analytical synthesis that should inspire anyone interested in American politics to think more carefully about how the racism of our collective pasts continues to shape and plague our world today.
~Western Historical Quarterly
Minutaglio’s work presents a useful introduction to the civil rights history of Texas...Minutaglio tells his stories well...in an easygoing, approachable style...Readers seeking a broad overview of Texas political history that emphasizes the expansion of civil rights will find that here.
~Journal of Southern History
A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles may be the best book written about the intersection of race and politics throughout Texas history, an intersection in which racism put ambitious white politicians on the road to wealth and power while relegating Black and Mexican American Texans to second-class citizenship—or death. Bill Minutaglio knows where all the bodies are buried in Texas, the Black and Brown bodies victimized by the violence of lynching or by the Texas Rangers. He also knows Texas’s buried history, that history of racial exploitation, exclusion and, yes, execution that isn’t mythologized and burnished into legend.
Prologue Chapter One. Remain Quietly: The 1870s Chapter Two. Our Defective Plan: The 1880s Chapter Three. Elites and Aliens: The 1890s Chapter Four. The Bosses: The 1900s Chapter Five. Legislative Rest: The 1910s Chapter Six. The Second Coming: The 1920s Chapter Seven. Black Blizzards: The 1930s Chapter Eight. Beautiful Texas: The 1940s Chapter Nine. I Have a Plaintiff: The 1950s Chapter Ten. The Mink Coat Mob: The 1960s Chapter Eleven. Bitten by the Political Bug: The 1970s Chapter Twelve. The Sands Have Shifted: The 1980s Chapter Thirteen. Reality Day: The 1990s Chapter Fourteen. Smear Tactics: The 2000s Chapter Fifteen. Total Command: The 2010s Epilogue Acknowledgments Notes Photo Credits Index
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