Smoothly tackling this near-herculean research task, [Minutaglio] keeps the sweat stains from showing and writes in prose as cool as a trout stream ... Back at the Statehouse in Austin, Minutaglio debunks a succession of the deplorables who clearly deserve it ... Minutaglio also profiles interesting, if lesser-known, political actors, especially among the Latino community ... The book might have been better had it ended in the 1970s, before Minutaglio interjects himself more directly into the narrative. Still, he is strong on the parabolic career of Gov. Ann Richards and on the roles that Lee Atwater and Karl Rove played in the miraculous makeovers of the two George Bushes before their runs for the White House. When Minutaglio visits various cemeteries around the state to examine the gravestones of Texas luminaries, he writes movingly of the nearby 'hanging' trees where not many years before, horrific tortures and lynchings drew large crowds.
The author draws from extensive historical research, as well as four decades of writing for Texas newspapers and authoring books that deal with Texas history, politics, and racial issues. In this book he makes a refreshing choice: he scales back coverage of several familiar historical figures so some lesser known, yet historically important Texans can be highlighted ... a noteworthy, timely, and well-written addition to the continuing debates over politics and race in Texas.
... Minutaglio...leans hard—perhaps too hard—into the crowd-pleasing nature of Texas public life. This latest installment in UT Press’s Texas Bookshelf series...is a readable, even rollicking survey of a century and a half of political conflict. But though the narrative will offer surprises even for those who know the material well, it too often errs on the side of telling a good story over painting a richer portrait of its subject ... Emphasizing the visceral over the abstract and the personal over the structural makes A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles a page-turner. Minutaglio has no use for an academic historian’s need to analyze and classify political movements or issues. For him, the issues matter less than the fight itself ... The one exception—and it’s a big one, as the title indicates—is race. A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles places this fraught issue at the heart of Texas politics as a through line from the 1870s to the present ... Minutaglio’s tendency [is] to use anecdote, biographical sketches, and a journalist’s sharp eye for detail to relay the tenor of a decade ... Still, despite its interpretive problems, A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles does the vital work of presenting to a general audience a powerful argument for the centrality of race in the past, present, and future of Texas politics.