Michener begins in the mid-1980’s by introducing a task force created by the governor of Texas to research the dual topics of what Texas children should be taught about their state’s history and how it should be taught. Four members of the task force are direct descendants of the families whose histories are intertwined in the founding and development of the state; as the task force holds meetings around the state, different aspects of Texas history and culture unfold.
The five families--the Garzas, the Quimpers, the Macnabs, the Cobbs, and the Rusks--illustrate the diversity and independence of the pioneers who explored and settled a vast and unforgiving land. The history begins with the first Garza who accompanied the Spanish explorers north from Mexico, in the 1500’s, and continues to the present-day Texas of cattle barons, oil tycoons, the Dallas Cowboys, and the new influx of “immigrants” from the northern states into the Sunbelt. Each new generation adds something to the Texas character, while the stories of individuals show how historical events shape and change lives.
As might be expected, it is difficult to condense so much history into one book, however long. Characters are often not fully developed as one story or generation is swept aside for another, and some readers will perhaps feel that more time should have been spent on one person or event. Yet, Michener’s blend of fiction and fact does convey the power, romance, and sweep of history and leaves the reader ready to explore in depth areas of specific interest.