Kurt Porter's Reviews > A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory

A Line in the Sand by Randy W. Roberts
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's review
Mar 06, 2012

it was amazing
Read in February, 2012

When one hears the words “Remember the Alamo”; what is it that one remembers? Is it the names of the men who gave their life’s defending the Alamo against Santa Anna’s army? Is it the epic John Wayne movie or the white washed Disney television series you watched when you were a child? Is it the idealistic version of the events that one learns in middle school? The answer, like most events of historical importance, is not quite so easy to ascertain. A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory illustrates the different arguments of how the Alamo affected both Texas and America, including how the Alamo has been remembered over the years.
A Line in the Sand was written by James S. Olson and Randy Roberts who are both well-known for their work in modern history. Their books tend to be about the American experience. Their knowledge more than qualifies them to write a book on the historical events that took place at the Alamo. Professor Olson and Professor Roberts have worked together on several other projects. Including the 1995 Pulitzer Prize nominated John Wayne American. James Stuart Olson received his B.A. in History from Brigham Young University in 1967 and later attended the State University of New York, Stony Brook where he earned his Masters of Arts in 1969. He also earned his Ph.D. in 1972, in the field of history. He started his career as an Instructor of History in 1970 at Dowling College. In 1972, he found a home when he began teaching at Sam Houston University as an Associate Professor. In 1984, he was appointed as a Professor in History and later during 1996, he was awarded the position of Distinguished Professor of History. He holds that position today. The other author, Randy Roberts, received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 1978. Roberts taught at the University of Maryland, Louisiana State University, and Sam Houston University (where he met Olson) before becoming an Associate Professor at Purdue during 1988, where he still teaches and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of History.
In A Line in the Sand Olson and Roberts are attempting to prove that the Alamo is not only a place where a few brave men fought many other brave men, but that the Alamo has influenced everything including our history, our state and our nation. By using letters and journal’s the book demonstrates alternative perspectives besides the ones perpetuated by popular history and legend. The book makes the reader rethink history by illustrating the thoughts and intentions of the Texan defenders, the Mexican solders, and the generals of both sides. The narrative provides an insight into what the participants may have been thinking, feeling, and what could have been their motivation. A Line in the Sand demonstrates how the Alamo was not fought over once, but many times for various reasons. The authors demonstrate how controversy has followed the Alamo since the first battle, from the debate over Davy Crockett’s death, to Clara Driscoll’s and Adina DeZavala’s bitter clash over how the Alamo should be preserved. The novel illustrates how the Alamo was used as a commercial gimmick by Walt Disney to sell coon skin caps to bankroll Disneyland. In addition, how Disney affected the nation’s perceptions of the combatants and the idea of the Alamo. The book shows how John Wayne attempted to immortalize it on the silver screen in his own glacial version of the siege and battle and its effects on the legend. Olson and Roberts show the reader how the Alamo has been used as a political tool by activist and presidents alike to try and achieve their own political goals. The intent of the book is demonstrates quite clearly. That the Alamo is much more than what the reader learned in middle school, watches on television, or sees in theaters and that Alamo is still in many aspects still affecting our lives.
Olson and Roberts have done a fantastic job of presenting the battle of the Alamo and its historical importance in a detailed way, but not so much so that only stuffy old scholars can understand the book. The authors wrote this novel so anyone who loves history can pick it up and enjoy reading it. At times the book might be hard follow due to the fact that not all the events are in chronological order; instead the authors opt for a more topical method, but overall is easy enough to follow. The narrative style of the writing keeps the reader interested and tells the story of the people, events, and places involved. The book does have a bias towards Texas, but overall it gives a true and unflinching look at all the parties involved in the many battles. The only inconsistencies are due to the fact that many of the events happened so long ago that they have become tangled into a Gordian knot of legend and myth. The primary sources of information about the Texas Revolution used to write A Line in the Sand can be found in the Texas State Library in Austin, The Benson Latin American Collection, The Barker Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin, The DRT Library in San Antonio, and the Texana collection at Yale University. The primary source for the information about the Mexican Army can be found in the Mexican Military Archives in Mexico City. For most readers the most accessible information can be found in John H. Jenkins eight-volume paper “The Papers of the Texas Revolution.”
Professor Gilbert M. Chuthbertson is known for his work at Rice University in the fields of Texas Politics, American Government, Folk-art in Texas and Mexico said about A Line in the Sand “the Alamo is no longer like Thermopylae in having no messenger.” Olson and Roberts have become the messengers of enlightenment that help the reader understand the events, from the first battle through the many battles that followed. Chuthbertson continues on to say “Overall, their contribution to the cannon of Alamo literature is as readable and significant as the reconstructions of Lon Tinkle’s 13 Days of Glory: The Siege of the Alamo and Walter Lord’s A Time to Stand.” This puts A Line in the Sand among some of the loftiest books on the subject of the Alamo. (Journal of Southern History, 68, November 2002, 939)
In conclusion, Olson and Roberts illustrated that the Alamo has affected all of us including our history, our legends, and our government. The authors show that the Alamo is more complex than anyone who has not read the book would have ever imagined and that it still plays a role in our lives to this day. A line in the Sand explains the event surrounding the Alamo and their effects in a well-crafted way that helps the reader gain new insights on the subject, and changes the way they “Remember the Alamo.”


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