God Save Texas (Wright)

God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State
Lawrence Wright, 2018
Knopf Doubleday
368 pp.

With humor and the biting insight of a native, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower explores the history, culture, and politics of Texas, while holding the stereotypes up for rigorous scrutiny.

God Save Texas is a journey through the most controversial state in America.

Texas is a red state in the heart of Trumpland that hasn't elected a Democrat to a statewide office in more than twenty years; but it is also a state in which minorities already form a majority (including the largest number of Muslims).

The cities are blue and among the most diverse in the nation. Oil is still king but Texas now leads California in technology exports. The Texas economic model of low taxes and minimal regulation has produced extraordinary growth but also striking income disparities.

Texas looks a lot like the America that Donald Trump wants to create. And Wright's profound portrait of the state not only reflects our country back as it is, but as it was and as it might be. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—August 2, 1947
Raised—Abilene and Dallas, Texas, USA
Education—B.A., Tulane University; M.A., American University in Cairo
Awards—Pulitzer Prize-Nonfiction
Currently—lives in Austin, Texas

Lawrence Wright is an American author, screenwriter, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and fellow at the Center for Law and Security at the New York University School of Law. He is best known as the author of the 2006 nonfiction book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

Background and education
Wright graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas, in 1965 and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2009. He is a graduate of Tulane University and earned an M.A. in Applied Linguistics at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, where he also taught for two years.

In 1980 Wright began working for the magazine Texas Monthly and contributed to Rolling Stone magazine. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in late 1992.

The Looming Tower

Wright is the author of six books but is best known for his 2006 The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. A quick bestseller, the book was awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, and he is considered by some journalists as one of the most knowledgeable background sources for Al Qaeda and 9/11.

The book's title is from the Quran 4:78: "Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower," a phrase Osama bin Laden quoted three times in a videotaped speech seen as directed to the 9/11 hijackers.

A 2010 HBO documentary, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, is based on Wright's experience in the Mid-East while researching The Looming Tower. The film looks at al-Qaeda, Islamic radicalism, hostility to America and the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. It combines Wright's first-person narrative with documentary footage and photographs.

In 2018, Hulu premiered The Looming Tower in a 10-part TV mini-series. Wright co-wrote the series with Alex Gibney. While the book goes back to the founding of Al-Qaeda, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the TV series begins with the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in east Africa in 1998.

Going Clear
Stemming from an earlier New Yorker article, Wright published a full-length book on Scientology—Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief in 2013. During his research for the book, Wright spoke to 200 current and former Scientologists; a number of those conversations are included in the book, along with an examination of the organization's history and leadership.

In an interview with the New York Times, Wright revealed he had received "innumerable" letters threatening legal action from lawyers and celebrities representing Scientology. The Church published an official statement in its newsroom and blog rebutting Wright's claims.

In 2015 the book was adapted as a documentary film. Wright worked with Alex Gibney, with whom he would collaborate three years later on The Looming Tower 2018 drama series.

Wright plays the keyboard in the Austin, Texas, blues collective WhoDo.

He is also a playwright, having worked on a script over several years about the making of the 1963 film Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison. The play, titled Cleo, was scheduled to open in Houston in October, 2017. The opening was delayed however because of the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. It finally opened six months later in April, 2018. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/10/2018.)

Book Reviews
The book rambles far and wide, and it's a testament to Wright's formidable storytelling skills that a reader will encounter plenty of information without ever feeling lost.… His tone is gentle, occasionally chiding…. Certain readers might crave more righteous anger from someone writing about Texas, especially now, when there's little room for agreement and plenty at stake. But Wright's project is perspective, not conquest.
Jennifer Szalai - New York Times

Lawrence Wright's superb new book …is his most personal work yet, an elegant mixture of autobiography and long-form journalism, remarkably free of elitist bias on the one hand, and pithy guidebook pronouncements on the other. For those seeking the joys of line-dancing or the 10 best rib joints in Waco, this is not your book (cover story).
David Oshinsky - New York Times Book Review

Compelling…timely…. There is a sleeping giant in Texas, and Wright captures the frustration and the hope that reverberate across the state each time it stirs.
Cecile Richards - Washington Post

Terrific…all-encompassing…[fueled] with literary tension.… Wright’s words could speak for both Texas and America.
Chris Vognar - Dallas Morning News

Wright tames his sprawling subject matter with concise sentences and laser-precise word choice.…Gives readers a front-row seat to the battle within the Texas GOP between business-oriented conservatives, led by House Speaker Joe Straus, and the social-conservative wing headed up by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Chris Gray - Houston Chronicle

[A] compelling and insightful potpourri of history, encounters, and observations.… Wright has managed to sew together a patchwork quilt of a narrative into a substantive State of the state.
Bob Ruggiero - Houston Press

(Starred review) Wright… takes an unflinching look at Texas… in all its grandeur and contradictions.… Wright’s large-scale portrait, which reveals how Texas is only growing in influence, is comprehensive, insightful, and compulsively entertaining.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) [A]n impressive ode to the Lone Star State.… [A] masterful service of revealing both the warts and beauty of Texas' big state of mind. —Jacob Sherman, John Peace Lib., Univ. of Texas at San Antonio
Library Journal

(Starred review) [A] thoughtful, engrossing, and often-amusing … "waltz through Texas"… whose history, politics and culture Wright finds endearing, repelling, and puzzling.… An important book about a state and people who will continue to have a large impact on the U.S. —Jay Freeman

(Starred review) Wright…has illuminated a variety of intriguing subcultures. His native Texas is as exotic as any of them.… A revelation—Wright finds the reflection of his own conflicted soul in the native state he loves and has hated.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for GOD SAVE TEXAS … then take off on your own:

1. Overall, how well do you think Lawrence Wright portrays the state of Texas? Is his assessment fair or unfair? Do you detect a scent of elitism or not? What aspects of Texan history, culture, and politics does he admire? Of what is he critical?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: If you are from Texas (native or transplant), how accurate is Wright's depiction of the state? Do you have familiarity with any of the events and landmarks he mentions? What are your favorite and/or least favorite associations and memories of living there?

3. Follow-up to Question 1: If you are not from Texas, what are your opinions of the state? Has Wright's book altered your perceptions for better or worse? Are you inspired to visit the state? If so, where would you like to go, and what would you like to see or experience while there?

4. Why do Texas and Texans inspire such strong reactions, often outrage as Wright points out, from non-residents?

5. Politically, Wright says of the state: "It should be as reliably blue as California. Instead, he says, "it is the Red Planet in the political universe." Care to comment on that?

6. What does Wright mean when he talks about a state "culture that is still raw, not fully formed, standing on the margins but also growing in influence, dangerous and magnificent in its potential"?

7. Talk about the many stereotypes people have of Texans: "cowboy individualism, a kind of wary friendliness, super-patriotism combined with defiance of all government authority, a hair trigger sense of grievance, nostalgia for an ersatz past that is largely an artifact of Hollywood." Are those fair attributes, overdrawn, or simply a bunch of tiresome cliches? What would you add to the list and what would you remove from it?

8. Why did Wright return to Texas, having fled the state after high school while attempting to do, as he writes, "everything I could to cleanse myself of its influence"?

9. In what way does Texas, according to Wright, portend America's future? Good thing, bad thing, or why bother to judge?

10. Discuss some of the dichotomies that permeate the state—world-class cultural institutions, for instance, juxtaposed with dire poverty?

11. What factors are driving the state's astonishing growth, both economically and demographically?

12. If you live outside of Texas, do you resent Texas, or envy her …or merely wish the state well?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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