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The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston

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This is the stuff of which legend is made, this story of the making of Texas, and Houston is one with those semilegendary characters--with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, with Marion the Swamp Fox and Ethan Allen. . . . In a sense he is too good to be true, this man who wrought such mighty deeds within the lifetime of our fathers and grandfathers; in a sense if he had not This is the stuff of which legend is made, this story of the making of Texas, and Houston is one with those semilegendary characters--with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, with Marion the Swamp Fox and Ethan Allen. . . . In a sense he is too good to be true, this man who wrought such mighty deeds within the lifetime of our fathers and grandfathers; in a sense if he had not existed we should have had to create him. --from the introduction by Henry Steele Commager


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This is the stuff of which legend is made, this story of the making of Texas, and Houston is one with those semilegendary characters--with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, with Marion the Swamp Fox and Ethan Allen. . . . In a sense he is too good to be true, this man who wrought such mighty deeds within the lifetime of our fathers and grandfathers; in a sense if he had not This is the stuff of which legend is made, this story of the making of Texas, and Houston is one with those semilegendary characters--with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, with Marion the Swamp Fox and Ethan Allen. . . . In a sense he is too good to be true, this man who wrought such mighty deeds within the lifetime of our fathers and grandfathers; in a sense if he had not existed we should have had to create him. --from the introduction by Henry Steele Commager

30 review for The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston

  1. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    Reading history that was written 90 years ago is sometimes as enlightening as reading more recent history. A book written 90 years ago reveals what was understood about the subject at the time AND about the culture in which it was written. Yes, the language is a little anachronistic. Yes, the language is sometimes hard on modern sensabilities. Yes, modern scholars might portray certain actions differently. But that is a reflection upon where we have come as a culture and soceity---and thus adds Reading history that was written 90 years ago is sometimes as enlightening as reading more recent history. A book written 90 years ago reveals what was understood about the subject at the time AND about the culture in which it was written. Yes, the language is a little anachronistic. Yes, the language is sometimes hard on modern sensabilities. Yes, modern scholars might portray certain actions differently. But that is a reflection upon where we have come as a culture and soceity---and thus adds to the value of the book itself. This was the first of the two Pulitzer's that Marquis James won in Biography. He was one of the first people to win 2 Pulitzer's in Biography and only a handful of other authors have ever achieved that feat. When he won this Pulitzer, the criteria was: For the best American biography teaching patriotic and unselfish services to the people, illustrated by an eminent example, excluding, as too obvious, the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The Criteria to Win the Pulitzer Prize in 1930 I do not know about you, but I find that criteria hilarious! Sam Houston was an unusual character. There are not many politicians who have been elected to Congress from two different states. There is only one politician who has ever been elected governor of two states. There is only one governor who was ever the President of a foreign country. There is only one governor who relinquished American Citizenship not once, but twice! To his credit, when the State of Texas chose to secede from the Union, Houston refused to do so a third time, instead chosing to stand by his convictions. That being said, I found this book to be an enjoyable read. The section of the book I enjoyed the most delved into his relationship with the Cherokee. In his youth, Houston ran away from home and lived briefly with a Cherokee tribe, wherein one of the tribal leaders, Ahuludegi, essentially adopted him. As an adult, Houston ran away from a scandal and re-united with Ahuludegi. As former governor and son of a tribal leader, Houston joined the Cherokee Tribe. He ceased to identify himself as an American and became a representative for the Cherokee in Washington. This would present problems for him in the future. But, according to James, the Western Cherokee sought to stop westward expansion of America, and to this objective, they supported the migration of the Cherokee east of the Mississippi. While Ahuludegi and Houston had hoped this would strengthen Western Cherokee, James writes, In the voluminous history of intercourse between the Indians and white races, nothing reflects so little credit upon the later as the case of the Georgia Cherokees (aka Trail of Tears). In another case, as a representative of the Cherokee, Houston sought to obtain a treaty between the Cherokee and United States. Senator Stanbery insulted Houston's honor and Houston subsequently beat Stanbery with a cain. Houston was then cahrged on the floor of Congress for his actions, but received a mere slap on the wrist. Opponents of Jackson then charged Houston with fraud. Senator Stanbery, whom Houston tried to kill, lead a seven man committee to investigate Houston. Despite being the committee chair, Stanbery and the committee found Houston innocent of the charges. Over all, I thought this was a very well done book. It might be a little dated---but it's 90 years old. You take the dating as part of it's appeal and as a reflection of the times.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lissa Johnston

    I've had this book on my shelf for ages. As a Native Texan and history buff, I feel great shame that it has taken me this long to get around to reading it. Thanks, Texas Rising, for the kick in the pants. It's a wonderful read, definitely not your grandma's boring history/biography tome. The colorful (to say the least) life of Houston paired with James' elegant and entertaining writing style results in a smooth and enjoyable read with plenty of 'makes you go hmmmmm' moments. What a character Hou I've had this book on my shelf for ages. As a Native Texan and history buff, I feel great shame that it has taken me this long to get around to reading it. Thanks, Texas Rising, for the kick in the pants. It's a wonderful read, definitely not your grandma's boring history/biography tome. The colorful (to say the least) life of Houston paired with James' elegant and entertaining writing style results in a smooth and enjoyable read with plenty of 'makes you go hmmmmm' moments. What a character Houston was. This book made me pine for the days when politicians were smart and entertaining and principled and full of charisma. Who will be our next Sam Houston? We may never see the like again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma

    If you watched 'Prison break' then you remember how Michael Schofield once described John Abruzi. He said of him "you are a mercurial man John"! That is how I have to describe" Sam Houston" the one time president of the republic of Texas. His 'country' was ruled by a president who always was drunk or appeared to be drunk. The chief justice was also a struggling alcoholic. There were no adequate laws in the country for lawyers to use in support of their arguments. A funny exchange occured between If you watched 'Prison break' then you remember how Michael Schofield once described John Abruzi. He said of him "you are a mercurial man John"! That is how I have to describe" Sam Houston" the one time president of the republic of Texas. His 'country' was ruled by a president who always was drunk or appeared to be drunk. The chief justice was also a struggling alcoholic. There were no adequate laws in the country for lawyers to use in support of their arguments. A funny exchange occured between a judge and a lawyer in one of the cases resulting in the lawyer prouncing that his 'dirk' was the law he relied on to support his arguments. This prompted the judge to bang the handle of his revolver stating that it (the revolver) was the constitution. The country was deeply in debt. The president had to reduce his salary from $10,000/= to $5000/=. His parliament was referred to as the 'Congress of the Penniless'. These and many more were the chaos in Sam Houston's country. His life was not different. He was divorced from his wife Eliza Allen after she accused him of neglect and extreme jeolousy of his wife. He was once accused of assaulting a fellow congressman. He was also a lawyer and a hero to many people. I never knew that there was such a man. This book will be very instructive to students of American history.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tony Cavicchi

    This biography of Sam Houston was written in 1929, only 65 years after his death. Roughly equivalent to a biography of Dwight Eisenhower published today in terms of passage of time. So the author assumes Houston looms large in the public psyche in ways he may not today. The book successfully tries to tell the good and the bad, but throughout the author doesn't leave us in doubt--no matter how drunk or dilettante Sam Houston is in a particular moment, Marquis James reminds us he eventually become This biography of Sam Houston was written in 1929, only 65 years after his death. Roughly equivalent to a biography of Dwight Eisenhower published today in terms of passage of time. So the author assumes Houston looms large in the public psyche in ways he may not today. The book successfully tries to tell the good and the bad, but throughout the author doesn't leave us in doubt--no matter how drunk or dilettante Sam Houston is in a particular moment, Marquis James reminds us he eventually becomes the hero of Texas and the moral conscience of the southern states before the Civil War. I grew up in the city named for this man, so I knew the Texas lore of San Jacinto and reading a book on the presidential election of 1860 last year enlightened me to the post-annexation career of Sam Houston and how he opposed Texas secession from the Union in 1861 (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). But Sam Houston was much more than that. Born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, his widowed mother moved him and his brothers to frontier Tennessee. Eccentric Sam Houston ran away from home to live with the Cherokee Indians, carrying with him a copy of Homer. This is the Houston named "The Raven" by his adopted Cherokee king father. This is the Houston who abandoned two wives, who abandoned the governorships of two different states, who caned a fellow congressman on Pennsylvania Ave in DC. Houston the dueler, Houston the "Big Drunk." But there is also Houston, national war hero of 1812. Houston, campaign manager for Andrew Jackson's first presidential run in 1824. Houston, self-taught lawyer to Tennessee Attorney General. Houston, US congressman and then overwhelimgly popular governor of Tennessee. Houston, Cherokee Nation Ambassador to the United States. Houston, military savior of a new republic who refused an offered dictatorship. Houston, president of Texas, governor of Texas, senator from Texas. Houston, who counseled peace with Mexico and denounced secession from the Union. It's one of the puzzles of life and history that such a bad man could be such a great man. But James also shows that tension resolve, covering how young Sam rejected his mother's Christianity and lived the next thirty odd years believing Indian religion before his third wife persuaded him to attend church. After nearly a decade of pondering Sunday sermons, Houston decided he did believe. When he was baptized in the river and reminded of the symbolism of sins washed away--his reply was well then God needs to have mercy on those fish. This born again Christianity informed the great moral moments of Houston's life--the reconciliation with Henry Clay to birth the Compromise of 1850 and defeat Calhoun's attempts at secession, the presidential campaign of 1860 for "the Constitution and the union", the refusal to swear loyalty to the Confederacy in 1861, the anti-Confederate coup he died while plotting two years later.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Martin Lowery

    "When Texas united her destiny with that of the United States, she entered into not the North nor the South. Her connection was national" said Governor Sam Houston to the Texas delegation prepared to head to the Confederate Convention of Seccession. While the book is dated in some aspects, having been written in 1930, it still stands the test of time as an incredible biography about a true blue American hero. After spending 12 years with Native Americans, Houston would lead the Texans to glory i "When Texas united her destiny with that of the United States, she entered into not the North nor the South. Her connection was national" said Governor Sam Houston to the Texas delegation prepared to head to the Confederate Convention of Seccession. While the book is dated in some aspects, having been written in 1930, it still stands the test of time as an incredible biography about a true blue American hero. After spending 12 years with Native Americans, Houston would lead the Texans to glory in their secession from Mexico, and would lead the new Republic as the President twice over. Opposed to slavery and the talks of southern states breaking from the Union, Houston spent his remaining days plotting on ways to take back Texas from the Confederacy and reestablishing itself as a Republic within a union of states. Truly an excellent biography, worthy of its Pulitzer Prize.

  6. 4 out of 5

    R

    The writing style reflects the period. Which I did not mind at all. Loved this book, and will read it again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Colin Darby

    I have not actually finished "The Raven," which makes this review somewhat unusual. However, with less than twenty pages left to run, I consider it close enough that I can judge the book, since I already know the ending (an advantage of the biographies of dead men). James gave me a new appreciation of the complexity of Sam Houston, and also an appreciation of the baroque complexity of the southern writer of a given time, such as Faulkner or Foote. While James tended to be more informal and fond o I have not actually finished "The Raven," which makes this review somewhat unusual. However, with less than twenty pages left to run, I consider it close enough that I can judge the book, since I already know the ending (an advantage of the biographies of dead men). James gave me a new appreciation of the complexity of Sam Houston, and also an appreciation of the baroque complexity of the southern writer of a given time, such as Faulkner or Foote. While James tended to be more informal and fond of an almost poetic level of referral to his subject by something other than his given name, the subject encouraged this sort of thing himself. Sam Houston was essentially unknowable. The man loved his secrets, and sometimes the only way to write about him was to write around him, a technique James uses to great effect. This is a deeply sympathetic biography of Houston. It would be easy to rewrite it as a critical one - Houston as an ingrate who turned his back first on Jackson, then on the Cherokee; Houston as a husband by turns abusive and neglectful toward Eliza Allen; Houston as one more scheming Texian adventurer; Houston as opportunist, looking for the chance to make his mark on history no matter the cost - but, again, that is because Sam Houston is essentially unknowable. There is no denying, for instance, that his retreat in the face of the Mexican Army was deeply unpopular, but at the same time, there is a great deal of leeway in the argument over whether he saw the moment to strike at San Jacinto, or was forced to choose between risking his army in battle, or losing it to wholesale desertion. So, too, the way Houston's grand dreams are framed as beautiful spectacles of the frontier imagination, but Lamar's are wasteful and grandiose. The difference is that this is a biography of Sam Houston, not Mirabeau Lamar, and while for personal reasons I prefer Houston to Lamar, it is important to recognize that James, too, is very fond of his subject and often sees him through rosier glasses than he perhaps deserves. I struggled reading this book, mostly by forcing myself through a chapter a day when I had the chance to read it. As I've said, James writes in not quite a High Southern Gothic style, which will make this difficult to read for many people. His bucolic informality actually makes this worse. I think these stylistic choices reflect his subject well, but I wouldn't pretend that it makes it easy to read, and occasionally even I, as fond of long, drawn-out, complex sentences as the next, would have to go back and reread a page to figure out where he had lost me. Overall, I recommend this as a book suited to people interested in Texana who are not afraid of occasionally dense, frequently literary prose.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Anderson

    In full disclosure, my main interest in reading this book was because my direct ancestors figure somewhat prominently in the early sections on the founding of the Texas republic so I had a hard time focusing on the first half of the book before Houston arrives in Texas. Overall, I found this to be a sometimes charming but also often meandering biography of one of the most fascinating men of the 19th century. Loosely cited, the book appears to assume basic knowledge of Houston’s story since I fou In full disclosure, my main interest in reading this book was because my direct ancestors figure somewhat prominently in the early sections on the founding of the Texas republic so I had a hard time focusing on the first half of the book before Houston arrives in Texas. Overall, I found this to be a sometimes charming but also often meandering biography of one of the most fascinating men of the 19th century. Loosely cited, the book appears to assume basic knowledge of Houston’s story since I found the parts I wasn’t already familiar with often hard to follow, but the author does draw on impressive primary sources and often interesting correspondence.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Wyatt

    I really struggled with this book. Sam Houston's life is an interesting story but I didn't like the writing style (inconsistent and textbooky). Also, I wasn't in the mood for another tale about someone heroically conquering land that wasn't his. I really struggled with this book. Sam Houston's life is an interesting story but I didn't like the writing style (inconsistent and textbooky). Also, I wasn't in the mood for another tale about someone heroically conquering land that wasn't his.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    James is an Oklahoma treasure for the ages. Houston was a fascinating character and since this biography is by Marquis James, I know I got the accurate and well researched version.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie Bootman

    This was a hard read, but Sam Houston was a larger than life. His achievements will never be attained by any other politician in the United States.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Becky J

    If you can put up with the casual racism and sexism, it's an interesting read. If you can put up with the casual racism and sexism, it's an interesting read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Tried reading this during the pandemic - I need brain candy. Will try this again later.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Madeleine Privitt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. While I have never been one for dense history reading, The Raven is fascinating as it tells the moving, dedicated, and occasionally humorous life of one of Texas' greatest leaders. While I have never been one for dense history reading, The Raven is fascinating as it tells the moving, dedicated, and occasionally humorous life of one of Texas' greatest leaders.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Landon Young

    This book is terrible! A biographer has the difficult task of removing himself emotionally from this subject that he's spent months and years tirelessly researching. I understand that this can be hard, but I think it is necessary for the biography to be of any academic value. This author failed miserably in this regard. It becomes very clear after a few chapters that he has a huge hard-on for Sam Houston. The author goes to great lengths to smooth over, or worse, straight up omit Houston's flaws This book is terrible! A biographer has the difficult task of removing himself emotionally from this subject that he's spent months and years tirelessly researching. I understand that this can be hard, but I think it is necessary for the biography to be of any academic value. This author failed miserably in this regard. It becomes very clear after a few chapters that he has a huge hard-on for Sam Houston. The author goes to great lengths to smooth over, or worse, straight up omit Houston's flaws, and even greater lengths to embellish his accomplishments. Having respect for your subject is understandable; why else go through the effort of writing such a lengthy treatise? But the danger of presenting your subject as superhuman is that they end up appearing inhumane. Sam Houston comes across in the book as an egotistical asshole whose sole regard is his own glory and reputation. The author spends great detail painting Sam Houston as the dashing bachelor very popular and very accomplished amongst the daughter's of the elite and upper-class, then casually glosses over the devestation these dalliances leave behind on a 16yr old girl in these circumstances at this time. The author acknowledges with a wink and a nod that their virtue is the only real value these girls have in their society, but only as if to reinforce how awesome Houston is for getting them to give it up in exchange for nothing but empty promises in return. The author addresses Sam Houston's military exploits in similar fashion. He tries to paint him as an inspiring tactician for whom nameless young soldiers will gladly lay down their lives, but this is not how it comes across. Instead, it reads like Sam Houston is a borderline sociopath who will gladly let scores of volunteer soldiers die in vain pursuits so long as his reputation survives the battle or it furthers his personal glory in some way. The author routinely recalls battles where Houston should have retreated but didn't for fear of looking cowardly, or showed up to a battle just as the real fighting has already been decided and the only thing left is for the survivors to claim the glory. I grew up in Texas and I've heard many great stories about Sam Houston. I was excited to read this book. But it's going to be hard for me now to separate the great man that Sam Houston probably was from the pitiful egotist portrayed by this sycophant. I would be grateful to anybody who could recommend an alternative bio...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Laflamme

    Fascinating. Almost science fiction. A difficult read both because of the old writing style, (1920's), and because the social conventions of America circa mid '80's were very different. Today's qualms of religion seemed to play little role in life lived in a sort of stridently secular spiritual haze. Honor, loosely defined, was the great virtue of the time and resulted in frequent deadly duels, but romantic notions were so out of our experience as to be very difficult to imagine. The history des Fascinating. Almost science fiction. A difficult read both because of the old writing style, (1920's), and because the social conventions of America circa mid '80's were very different. Today's qualms of religion seemed to play little role in life lived in a sort of stridently secular spiritual haze. Honor, loosely defined, was the great virtue of the time and resulted in frequent deadly duels, but romantic notions were so out of our experience as to be very difficult to imagine. The history described is very detailed and the end of the story deals very well with the start of our great civil war. All in all, a must read about an individual who most defined the generation prior to civil war.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam Arnold

    After powering through The Raven, I pride myself on knowing infinitely more about an incredibly intriguing man and a pivotal and heralded time in Texas and US history. That said it is an old book with arduous language and a challenging writing style. I suspect it won the Pulitzer in a time when Marquis James' pen was more in vogue. It is impossible not to recommend this literary treasure, but I must say I found the text difficult to follow at times. After powering through The Raven, I pride myself on knowing infinitely more about an incredibly intriguing man and a pivotal and heralded time in Texas and US history. That said it is an old book with arduous language and a challenging writing style. I suspect it won the Pulitzer in a time when Marquis James' pen was more in vogue. It is impossible not to recommend this literary treasure, but I must say I found the text difficult to follow at times.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Sam Houston was a man of wisdom, intelligence, honor and courage. His influence was essential to the beginnings of Texas as part of Mexico, as an independent nation, and as a state. He was appalled when the state's leaders voted to join the Confederacy, and he resigned his office in protest. His Indian name was Raven, though he had no Indian blood. He was respected by everyone, even his political opponents. Sam Houston was a man of wisdom, intelligence, honor and courage. His influence was essential to the beginnings of Texas as part of Mexico, as an independent nation, and as a state. He was appalled when the state's leaders voted to join the Confederacy, and he resigned his office in protest. His Indian name was Raven, though he had no Indian blood. He was respected by everyone, even his political opponents.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    A fine biography of Sam Huston with new, to me, facts and events. After Sam shepherded the new Texas to a stable (more or less) state by using strategic actions versus simple minded tactical actions by numerous Texas opportunists and the text began to explore festivities I quio reading. (My wife persisted to the end.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Raelene

    Compelling and engaging narrative of a man and history I knew little about. Who knew the Alamo was such a doomed venture from the start? James' biography is fair and balanced (and only reveals its contemporary prejudices in the brief discussion of slavery and the tensions leading up to the Civil War). A thrilling adventure. Compelling and engaging narrative of a man and history I knew little about. Who knew the Alamo was such a doomed venture from the start? James' biography is fair and balanced (and only reveals its contemporary prejudices in the brief discussion of slavery and the tensions leading up to the Civil War). A thrilling adventure.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michiel

    This was a fantastic biography of a fascinating man. Marquis James is a good writer and definitely put his personality in the writing, but Sam Houston was indeed the star of the book. Houston had so many different phases in his life, and each phase was lived to the fullest. There was never a dull moment in this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Geoff Sebesta

    One thing this book gets right is it makes you like Sam Houston. A lot. The book was dense, sometimes to the point of opacity, and it took substantial patience to get through. It was worth it. The understanding this book imparts of Houston and his world is astonishing. Every single Pulitzer Prize winning book I have ever read has been great.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rindis

    I'll admit, I'm letting myself be swayed by the presentation. I'm tempted to consider this biography of Sam Huston a very strong '3', but this particular edition is especially classy with a sturdy slipcase, and very nice paper. I'll admit, I'm letting myself be swayed by the presentation. I'm tempted to consider this biography of Sam Huston a very strong '3', but this particular edition is especially classy with a sturdy slipcase, and very nice paper.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ashton Reynolds

    I really enjoyed this Biography of Sam Houston. It did a pretty good job of explaining his life and the complexities of who he was. I did not learn a whole lot I did not already know, but I did quite a bit of study of Sam Houston in college.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sknight

    This is a great biography of Sam Houston. He was a powerful general, a determined politician, and yet, a flawed man. You will come away with a new understanding of the man that helped protect and support the Republic of Texas.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    As a Texan and a confirmed history "nut", I had to read this book. There was so much more to learn about the man, the statesman, and the history of Texas in relation to the history of America. He is still one of my heroes, warts and all. As a Texan and a confirmed history "nut", I had to read this book. There was so much more to learn about the man, the statesman, and the history of Texas in relation to the history of America. He is still one of my heroes, warts and all.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    A great biography for which the author won the Pulitzer Prize. A solid presentation of a man of great talents and great contradictions. If you pick it up again after time it maintains its strength and still dazzles just like the first read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lacy

    I fell in love with this book. The writing is not as clear as I would like - sometimes it was a little too florid to be easily followed - but the story of Sam Houston and Texas is fascinating. It made me (even more) proud to be a Texan!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sydney Young

    Really, I had no idea! Glad I know now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    A must read for those that are interested in the history of Texas.

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