Unheroic in appearance, given to "deacon-sober suits" and "ponderous gravity," Martin Luther King Jr. ushered in an epochal era of change in the United States. Closely watching King's journey from Montgomery to Birmingham to the Lincoln Memorial to Memphis was journalist Marshall Frady, who honors the minister's achievement and spirit in this lucid biography.
"Almost a geological age ago, it seems now--that great moral saga of belief and violence that unfolded in the musky deeps of the South during the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties." So Frady opens his account, which traces King's transformation from withdrawn, unconfident child to eloquent champion of the oppressed, ever unafraid to trouble the waters. Frady explores King's conflicts, contradictions, and triumphs, as well as the great personal cost he bore in urging nonviolent change in a singularly violent time.
Part of the excellent Penguin Lives series, this slender volume sheds much light on a prophet now honored, but still too little understood. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
When Dr. King made the cover as Time's Man of the Year in 1963, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover "snorted in a remark passed around the Bureau, `They had to dig deep in the garbage for this one.'" It is details such as this that make this short biography of a much-written about subject both potent and illuminating. For the latest entry in the Penguin Lives series, Frady (Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson) has produced a sharp, politically insightful, emotionally astute and psychologically complex portrait of a man whose complicated life and work is often reduced to simplistic hagiography. While this biography uses a standard chronological narrative as its spine, Frady constantly reframes facts and their accepted meanings with new information that gives readers fresh, often startling interpretations, or reminds us of facts that have slipped to the periphery (Rosa Parks was not simply a woman who refused to change her seat on the bus, but an active member of the NAACP who knew the political implications of her act). Never shying away from controversial topics, such as King's deep rage against the U.S. war in Vietnam or the plagiarized portions of his writing, Frady also perceptively analyzes how King's political strategizing emerged from his often conflicted emotional needs many of his bold, decisive gains for the civil rights movement were predicated on a Clintonian need for contact and adulation, according to the author. Yet Frady's sensitive, succinct presentation never lets King's foibles obscure his tremendous contributions to American life. (Jan.)Forecast: With such titles as Edna O'Brien's James Joyce and Wayne Koestenbaum's recent Andy Warhol, the Penguin Lives series has propagated a distinctive form of biography, drawing heavily on the magazine profile form. A few readers may be starting to follow the series as a whole and will pick this up; others will find reacquaintance with King's nonviolent tactics for liberation a refreshing read in difficult times.
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