At the first light of dawn on March 6, 1836, the Mexican army’s final assault on the Alamo began. In a battle that could not have lasted more than about ninety minutes, the garrison was massacred to the last man – as they had known they surely would be.

It is an iconic moment in American history. Indeed, with the arguable exception of the Battle of New Orleans (and Texans may be forgiven for arguing this thesis vociferously in the negative), there was no more memorable or consequential military engagement between the Revolution and the Civil War.

If, 180 years later, Texas is still in so many respects the real America – and even a native and lifelong New Yorker can believe that – this legendary event may be seen as a defining one. The larger history – the Alamo in context, if you will – is to be found in H. W. Brands’ wonderful Lone Star Nation: The Epic Battle for Texas Independence.

It is, first and foremost, the story of a manifest destiny. Pushing ever westward, Americans seeking land, opportunity, and the chance to carve out their own fortunes in their own ways would have had to occupy the vastness and richness of that immense territory. And at first, they did so respecting the sovereignty of Mexico, even over a land mass she could neither govern nor defend. But as Mexico sank under the iron tyranny of Santa Anna – and, more importantly, as Texas filled up with ever greater numbers of Americans – independence and ultimately statehood became inevitable.

Professor Brands brings to vivid life all the great characters in the drama. Here is Austin, the most important of the early settlers and the last to abandon hope of a peaceful solution. Here, too, are the three great refugees of the story – Houston, Bowie, Travis – each fleeing a disastrous life east of the Mississippi, each in that sense making his own last stand long before the Alamo was besieged. Here, finally, is Crockett – a genuine legend in his own time – leaving behind a failed political career, arriving at the Alamo barely in time to serve as a noble subordinate to the much younger Travis, and to choose death. Surely there is no more fascinating American story.

For your children and grandchildren this March 6th – since we’re between the Super Bowl and the Final Four – you might devote Sunday to a family viewing of John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film The Alamo. If it isn’t a genuinely great film, its value is twofold, and estimable in both respects. First – like the opening half hour of Saving Private Ryan and the only watchable half hour of Pearl Harbor – it is the closest thing to the actual event that we will ever see.

Second, it contains one of the greatest yet least appreciated characterizations of a historical figure in all of American film: Billy Bob Thornton’s Crockett – dying, finally, not out of belief in Texas independence so much as in existential fidelity to the heroic legend he himself created. You’ve never seen anything like it.

© 2016 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Nick reviews current books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his monthly newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download the new 2016 sample issue, visit and click on “Newsletter.”