LEO’S TEXAS READING LIST
Compiled the end of the Future Rock tour – Aug/Sept 2012… Long drives in the van through south TX, west TX and back east via Dallas/Houston were only cured by listening to books on tape (‘guns germs and steel’) and by my personal reading collection, a combination of books gifted by friends, found on the stoop in Brooklyn months before and recommended by revolution books NYC… taken as a whole they paint a vivid complex picture of Texas history, contextualizing the present and giving insight to the world, be it Texas or somewhere else.
1) DRUG LORD: The life and death of Pablo Acosta.
Got this from a friend in Marfa, TX. It’s actually a discard from the Marfa Public Library. It’s non-fiction biography about Pablo Acosta: Mexican drug lord, based in Ojinaga, in the state of Chihuahua, northern Mexico, and right across the border from Presidio, TX in the ‘Big Bend’. He was in charge of the ‘Plaza’, making deals with the government, the police, the other gangs, his rivals, Americans, smuggling marijuana heroin and cocaine throughout the 70’s and 80’s. He got his start as a poor local peasant smuggling Candelilla wax across the border – a legal product that was taxed by Mexico so they smuggled to keep the profits.
The book is sensationalist, it covers all kinds of crazy escapades, murders, addiction, stunts, dangerous turns of affairs and documents the corruption straight up the Mexican government and in proxy – the US government which was cutting deals with the Mexicans.
BUT what’s really deep is: that even as exceptionally daring, smart and ruthlessly business minded in Pablo Acosta – HE COULD BE ANYONE. If he had been killed a decade earlier, there would be some other ex-paisano running the Plaza and continuing the drug trade across the border in this small strategic little town. IT’S A SYSTEM. Its capitalism. Its illegal but it is not contradictory to the business system that rules both societies Mexico and the USA.
Heavy quote, sung by local troubadours at Pablo Acosta’s funeral:
“Gone is Pablito, friend of the poor.
Killed by the government
In a world that shows no mercy
For people like that.
And the gringos,
Laughing on the other side of the river,
Prayed for Pablito to die
Yet he had done nothing more
Than give them what they wanted”
ESCAPE FROM TEXAS: A Novel of Slavery and the Texas War of Independence
Got this as Revolution Books’ ‘book of the week’. Fictional, but well researched and realistic. Main character is James, a slave in the Mexican state of Tejas y Coahuila in the 1830’s. He’s been brought from Tennessee by his Anglo-American owner into the newly disputed land – Tejas was largely unpopulated, a mix of Mexican settlers, roving Native American bands on horseback and new anglo-american slavemasters with their ‘cargo’.
The book shows the tumultuous history of Tejas – far from the center of Mexican government and society, greedily wanted by the USA and more specifically by individual Anglo-americans who wanted to make money, build plantations and expand the southern slave system of agriculture. We watch James build from scratch his oppressor’s house, grow his food and make him money, while the master calculates his profits and talks to local leaders about how to protect their ‘investments’.
This book really shows the western expansion of the USA was not so much lead by the government, but by individual capitalist units – small “families” led by a man, which his wife-property, and his slave-property. They set up homesteads, worked the land, profited, and braced themselves for Indian attacks. I think you could call it micro-capitalism.
HEAVY SCENE – where the newly independent (anglo) state government of Texas is debating their slave system – should they allow importing new slaves? One such slave master becomes very disappointed when they say no (to keep in line with the USA’s policies) because he wants to bring in as much new ‘cargo’ via the gulf coast and often Cuban slave traders.
EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
Gives the history of the Comanche people and chronicles their era 1700’s-1800’s as conquering raiders and buffalo hunters. From their encounters and battles with the Spanish colonizers, they took to the Spanish Mustang horse and became the most supreme horse-riders in the entire history of the Americas. They were buffalo hunters who used every part of the animal. Dominating warriors on horseback, based in present day Texas, Oklahoma, and raided as far north as Kansas and south to Chihuahua on week long pirate attacks, killing, kidnapping, mutilating and even raping. Warriors in the fashion of Genghis Khan and the Mongols.
The book also lays bare the genocidal colonial essence of the United States. Built on expansion and transformation of the wilderness and crushing native peoples societies. The ever-growing American capitalist mission which butted heads with the Comanches who controlled the wide open plains lying between the American East/Midwest/South and the west coast of California.
See the previous book “Escape from Texas” to understand the anglo/slave settlement of Texas. This book mentions slavery but brings in no analysis, as the plains where the Comanche were based was not farming land and less useful to the slave system. It ended up begin cattle ranch land for $.
The story shows the development of the Comanche people alongside the ambition of the Anglo-Texans, coming from Missouri, Tennessee and connected back to bankers and in NYC and rich men in DC… Buying slaves in New Orleans and the shores of East Texas. Building cotton farms. On the plains ranching cattle. All for $ and for growth, for the American dream and the American family. The Comanches and their fascinating leader Quanah Parker held off their settlement for decades until finally disease, military campaigns and callous midnite murders from US militias ended their freedom and way of life.
ISAAC’S STORM: a Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
Non-fiction but written like an exciting disaster novel. The story of the 1900 Hurricane which hit Galveston, TX and ruined the city. Told through the eyes of the Isaac, the local head of the weather department – it includes lots of science, clouds, weather patterns, 1900 American settler society and international relations (ignoring Cuba’s hurricane warnings on a racist/nationalist basis) plus lots of hi-flying disaster drama.
Very frightening to read this just a few months before Hurricane Sandy hit NYC. This book shows the intersection of weather and natural forces with people and human society. There is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’ – it is always in combination with society – if Isaac had made different choices the damage and death in 1900 would have been much lighter.
BASICS: From the writings and talks of Bob Avakian
Perhaps the most important book on this list. Crucial to understanding the lineage between all this history… the underlying forces and dynamics. What it all means to today. How we actually could have a different future, based on where we are and what has come before. How to make sense of all the madness in our history, and in this case we’ve only been looking back 200 years!
This book is an organized sampled of quotes and passages from Avakian – perhaps his best book and definitely the easiest to read and best introduction to his work. Some crucial principles which help understand all this Texas history (and much more)
* History is the result of antagonistic contradictions played out
* The economic system of a society creates necessity for everyone in the society – this necessity is the driving force of its expansion
* Much of what plays out in the world is not consciously driven – it is the result of larger social forces and of unconscious choices by people who represent their class interests without perhaps even knowing it.
QUOTE: “In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy” – without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves – is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”…