I think I may have finally found a use for e-books. So (too?) often, I find that non-fiction writers include too much detail. So there could be an abridged electronic version with links marked IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT. . .
Davis, from the very beginning, has a problem. It seems that there is not enough that is known for certain about Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. So he has to resort to a wide array of conditional phrases like “probably” and “may have” and “almost certainly.” I wonder if there’s some sort of historian’s thesaurus for such disclaimers. I also wonder why, at some point, an editor didn’t say to him, “We don’t really have enough information to make this book work.”
Due to the lack of verifiable information, Davis often indulges in long digressions about things he does know and these topics (like itemized debts or innumerable land deals and frauds) rarely drive the narrative forward. And they muddy the already complicated issues Davis does not do a good job of delineating.
Still, there are some interesting pieces that can be extracted from here. The first three pages are brilliant. It sets the tone for Davis’ theme of myth-making and myth-busting which is insightful. How and why do we create our own stories? How do such myths take on lives of their own? How are they useful to individuals? To groups? To history?
Davis’ book, subtitled The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis, captures America at a time of transition. While there are those who are trying to figure out lawful and fair ways to handle issues of land, there are others, including Bowie, trying to take advantage of the lack of certainty. Even the final battle is absolutely plagued by the absence of procedure – what Davis sometimes refers to as “an excess of democracy.”
There are some well-paced sections, particularly (and not surprisingly) at the end. But they do not, in the end, make reading the whole thing worthwhile.