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Let the People In

Let the People In
The Life and Times of Ann Richards

Drawing on more than 100 interviews with Ann Richards’s friends and associates and her private correspondence, Let the People In offers a nuanced, fully realized portrait of the first feminist elected to high office in America and one of the most fascinating women in our political history.

October 2012
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495 pages | 6.125 x 9.25 | 68 b&w photos |

When Ann Richards delivered the keynote of the 1988 Democratic National Convention and mocked President George H. W. Bush—“Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth”—she instantly became a media celebrity and triggered a rivalry that would alter the course of American history. In 1990, Richards won the governorship of Texas, upsetting the GOP’s colorful rancher and oilman Clayton Williams. The first ardent feminist elected to high office in America, she opened up public service to women, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays, and the disabled. Her progressive achievements and the force of her personality created a lasting legacy that far transcends her rise and fall as governor of Texas.

In Let the People In, Jan Reid draws on his long friendship with Richards, interviews with her family and many of her closest associates, her unpublished correspondence with longtime companion Bud Shrake, and extensive research to tell a very personal, human story of Ann Richards’s remarkable rise to power as a liberal Democrat in a conservative Republican state. Reid traces the whole arc of Richards’s life, beginning with her youth in Waco, her marriage to attorney David Richards, her frustration and boredom with being a young housewife and mother in Dallas, and her shocking encounters with Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He follows Richards to Austin and the wild 1970s scene and describes her painful but successful struggle against alcoholism. He tells the full, inside story of Richards’s rise from county office and the state treasurer’s office to the governorship, where she championed gun control, prison reform, environmental protection, and school finance reform, and he explains why she lost her reelection bid to George W. Bush, which evened his family’s score and launched him toward the presidency. Reid describes Richards’s final years as a world traveler, lobbyist, public speaker, and mentor and inspiration to office holders, including Hillary Clinton. His nuanced portrait reveals a complex woman who battled her own frailties and a good-old-boy establishment to claim a place on the national political stage and prove “what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”


Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Non-Fiction
The Texas Institute of Letters

AAUP Book and Jacket Show
Trade Typographic Book

Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize
Texas State Historical Association

Liz Carpenter Award for Research in the History of Women

New York Book Show Design Awards
General Trade, Hardcover Nonfiction

  • Acknowledgments
    • Prologue: Glimpses
  • Part I: Gardens of Light
    • Chapter 1: Waco
    • Chapter 2: New Frontiers
    • Chapter 3: Lovers Lane
    • Chapter 4: Mad Dogs and First Fridays
    • Chapter 5: The Hanukkah Chicken
  • Part II: Superwoman's Chair
    • Chapter 6: Problem Lady
    • Chapter 7: Landslides
    • Chapter 8: Raw Deals
    • Chapter 9: Capsized
    • Chapter 10: The Class of '82
    • Chapter 11: Raise Money and Wait
    • Chapter 12: Cheap Help
  • Part III: Only in Texas
    • Chapter 13: Poker Faces
    • Chapter 14: The Speech
    • Chapter 15: Dispatches
    • Chapter 16: Backyard Brawl
    • Chapter 17: Answer the Question
    • Chapter 18: Bustin' Rocks
    • Chapter 19: The Rodeo
  • Part IV: The Parabola
    • Chapter 20: The New Texas
    • Chapter 21: Fast Start
    • Chapter 22: Ethicists
    • Chapter 23: Odd Couples
    • Chapter 24: Favorables
    • Chapter 25: White Hot
    • Chapter 26: Heartaches by the Number
    • Chapter 27: Troubles by the Score
    • Chapter 28: Sass
    • Chapter 29: Collision Course
    • Chapter 30: Queen Bee
  • Epilogue: Passages
    • Notes
    • Photo Credits
    • Index

Jan Reid has written for Texas Monthly, Esquire, GQ, Slate, Men’s Journal, Garden & Gun, the New York Times, and many other publications. His books include The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, The Bullet Meant for Me, Rio Grande, Texas Tornado: The Times and Music of Doug Sahm, and two award-winning novels, Deerinwater and Comanche Sundown. He lives in Austin, Texas.


“This book, which maintains a brisk pace and is filled with characters found only deep in the heart of Texas politics, is an indispensable addition to any collection specializing in Texas or state politics and feminist political figures. Both scholarly and accessible, it will appeal to almost any reader interested in the lives of American politicians.”
Library Journal

“Required reading for political junkies—and for women considering a life in politics. ”

“Reid is a clever stylist and a terrific storyteller. He has a fine grasp of Texas politics and no ideological ax to grind. As an account of Richards the politician in Lone Star surroundings, Let the People In is about as good as it gets.”
Texas Monthly

“Hers is a darned good story, and Reid, a veteran of Austin literary and political circles, tells it with sympathy, insight and a deep knowledge of contemporary Texas politics.”
Washington Post

“Illuminates the challenge of being a woman in Texas politics during the late twentieth century. . . . Credit for the changing times belongs in large measure to the fortitude of Richards and others like her.”

“There’s something interesting on almost every page of Let the People In. This is a terrific book about a fascinating woman.”
Houston Chronicle

“Thoroughly researched and deftly written. . . . It should stand as the definitive biography of the forty-fifth governor of Texas for a long while.”
The Historian

“Jan Reid gives us new insight into Ann Richards, whose wit filled any room with laughter, whose candor chased away every smoke screen, whose heart was as big as Texas. Governor Richards was a leader you wanted to follow to a world where everyone could be a winner, and she never stopped trying to take us there. I loved her and so will you.”
President Bill Clinton

“I always felt that knowing Ann Richards was a bit like knowing a rock star. Jan Reid’s addition to the literature, myth, and reality about Ann is a great read for Ann’s fans and foes alike. I was sorry when we lost the great Ann Richards. I was sad when I closed this compelling book.”
Liz Smith

“At once a compelling, touching tale of a remarkable woman and an insightful account of the decline of Texas liberalism. Jan Reid captures the spirit, accomplishments, and failures of Ann Richards wonderfully well. One of the best books on Texas politics in years.”
H. W. Brands


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