Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five books about Texas

Attica Locke is a writer who has worked in both film and television. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has written movie scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, and Jerry Bruckheimer films, as well as television pilots for HBO, Dreamworks, and Silver Pictures. Her acclaimed debut novel is Black Water Rising.

She discussed five books on her home state of Texas with Eve Gerber at The Browser, including:
The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes
by Bryan Burrough

Moving forward to the 20th century, when Texas struck it rich, you chose The Big Rich. One reviewer wrote that it’s about “capitalism at its most colourful”. Tell us about Bryan Burrough’s book and Texas’s distinctive brand of super-rich.

There’s no way to understand the culture and politics of Texas without talking about oil. It’s just not possible. The Big Rich follows four men who used to be called “The Big Four”: Roy Cullen, HL Hunt, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson. These are the men after whom streets are named in Texas. The book starts all the way back in 1901, when oil was first discovered in Beaumont, Texas and stretches through the second half of the 20th century. For the most part these men came from very modest backgrounds. I think one was an elementary school dropout. They were called wildcatters, a name that reflects their risk-taking and outsized personalities.

People who remember the TV show Dallas might think the brand of conspicuous consumption associated with it is hyperbole. When you read this book you realise it was grounded in reality. These guys had huge mansions and every toy under the sun. They were from the sticks, but ended up travelling the world and entertaining world leaders.

I understand oil production just counts for a fraction of the revenue nowadays. Is oil still essential to understanding Texas today?

In my opinion, yes. You cannot separate oil from the state. The oil industry fuelled the rise of Texas and even though oil production isn’t dominant, the energy industry as a whole still looms large over the state and cities like Dallas and Houston. In the world’s imagination, we’ll always be associated with oil. Plus, as The Big Rich shows, oilmen were able to insinuate themselves into state and national politics. They used their oil money to lubricate the rise of the conservative movement and help along the careers of the three Texans who landed in the White House. This book came out in 2009, before the BP oil spill. Reading it will give you a sense of how we arrived where we’ve arrived in terms of oil power in our economy and our politics.
Read about another Texas book Locke tagged.

Read about Bryan Burrough's six best books.

See The Page 69 Test: Attica Locke's Black Water Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue