Friday, May 5, 2017

A Witness to History ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Blog Tour, Review, & Giveaway!

George H. Mahon,
West Texas Congressman
By Janet M. Neugebauer
Foreword by Kent Hance

  Genre: Texas History / Politics / Biography
Date of Publication: June 30 2017
Number of Pages: 576

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This is the story of George H. Mahon, a man who went to Congress in 1935, when the House Committee on Appropriations still allocated a small amount of money to buy military horses. Forty-four years later, when Mahon retired as Chairman of that same committee, the committee was debating funds to purchase a bomber capable of traveling at 2,000 miles an hour. With a career spanning nearly a half century—spanning almost the entire Cold War—Mahon grew from a West Texas country lawyer to one of the most powerful men in the US House of Representatives, serving twenty-two consecutive terms from 1935–1978.
During his time in Congress, Mahon worked easily with the giants of government, enjoying the friendship and confidence of seven of the eight presidents with whom he served. He worked just as comfortably with his constituents in the Nineteenth Congressional District of Texas. Mahon served on several Congressional committees, but it is through his service on the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations that he had the greatest national impact. He often bragged that under his leadership the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations was the most non-partisan committee in Congress. Mahon led the subcommittee with a strong but gentle hand that earned him the respect of all who served with him.

HALL WAYS REVIEW: ✪✪✪✪  Is it weird that reading a well-organized, well-written, detailed, thoroughly researched biography makes me sad? Don't get me wrong -- this is not a sad book. George H. Mahon, the subject of Janet Neugebauer's hefty A Witness to History, was viewed "as an institution, more so than a man because of the outstanding services he rendered this community, this state, and this nation," according to former Texas Governor Preston Smith. He was an amazing person. . . And it made me sad that these days, we are hard pressed to find anyone modeling his approach to being a politician: listening to his constituents, caring about their concerns, and practicing bi-partisanship to take care of business.  It used to be done -- why can't it be done now? 

When I first received my ARC, I will admit I was intimidated. I felt like I was in a required college class and flipped through to see how many pages have photos and how many are taken by notes and the bibliography! I soon found that What A Witness to History holds within its nearly 600 pages is historically important. The events that Mahon experienced, first hand, are mind boggling. He took his oath of office in January of 1935 and served for forty-four years! Even as he traveled from small town West Texas to Washington and around the world, he stayed grounded and worked with purpose for the greater good.  The behind-the-scenes look at how the various congressional committees function is fascinating. In reading about how Mahon lived his life, it seems he was always open to other perspectives. Neugebauer does a great job of showing him as not only a politician but a person. He wasn't perfect, as some of his votes show, but he was genuine.

Beyond being a biography of George Mahon, the book provides a volume of snapshots into life over the years. His letters reveal, for example, the impact of rationing, and show humor when he says he felt confident enough to buy some gum and to eat a whole stick instead of just a half. The letters show his and his constituents' fear at the very real threat of nuclear war. The letters show the disappointment in the actions and decisions of the nation's and world's leaders and how people in China worked for the day in exchange for a bowl of rice and a cup of tea.  I am struck by how many things Mahon shared in his long-ago letters are not far from our experiences in current times. The book shows how he voted but somewhat avoids Mahon's stance on issues of racism and civil rights. It seems here, he voted straight party, typically as his constituents wanted, whether he agreed or not. Again, timely.

The writing is nearly immaculate, but quite honestly, there is just too much information for one book, and some of the fine details of what happened in committee meetings and with budgets were tedious for me. Chapters are long, as are many of the paragraphs within those chapters. However, the organization of this book (chronological, chapters are identified by the years they cover) makes it ideal as a reference book for anyone looking for a unique perspective on American and Texas politics from the 1930s to late '70s. At the same time, the history is also relevant for anyone interested in modern day politics, as well. Mahon rubbed elbows and had relationships with some of the most recognizable people of the times and his takeaways and experiences are what make the book interesting. 

Thank you to Lone Star Book Blog Tours and the publisher for providing me a print ARC in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.

Janet M. Neugebauer is deputy director of the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. Her many works include Lambshead Legacy and Plains Farmer.

Kent Hance is a former Chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and a former member of the US House of Representatives.

   April 26-May 7, 2017 

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