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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year Hardcover – Sep 9 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (Sept. 9 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316332763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316332767
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #183,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Winner of the Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award

"A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint.... [A] poignant account of King's final struggle. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light."―Kirkus Reviews

"Tavis Smiley has captured not only the spirit of the movement, but the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last days. We didn't realize it but he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem, and as much as we tried to deter him, he fought back."―Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Mayor of Atlanta

"Death of a King is a fitting climax to a noble saga. It is here adequately told and placed before history."―Reverend Gardner C. Taylor

A "microscopically focused biography, which trades in both weighty events and the everyday joys of family life."―Time

"Tavis Smiley has brought forward in his book Death of a King an accounting of the last year Dr. King was physically with us -- an accounting very much needed. Tavis rightfully emphasizes the error it is to continually emphasize his martyrdom mostly with no mention of the great work he did. Tavis's book helps people focus on his work and the spirit with which he worked."―Dorothy F. Cotton, Education Director for SCLC, the organization led by Dr. King

"Tavis Smiley illuminates the passion and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last 365 days."―AARP's Editors' Picks

"One of the most important political voices of his generation."―The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A dramatic retelling of King's final and pivotal year."―Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer

"Death of a King paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a revealing and dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to King's assassination."―Nicole M. Robertson, The Oakland Press

"Smiley also serves as the reader for the audio, a factor that gives another level of personalization to the already gripping narrative. In the introduction, Smiley remembers how when he was growing up, he recited the speeches of Dr. King in order to "find his own voice." And what a voice it is. Smiley's narration is smooth, measured, and backed by a rich, authoritative tone that truly adds another level of sentimentality and familiarity to the audio. Recommended for history buffs and those interested particularly in Dr. King."―Brian Odom, Booklist

"A must-read.... ... King feels like a real person instead of a larger-than-life caricature."―Kelvin Wade, Daily Republic

About the Author

Tavis Smiley is the host of PBS's Tavis Smiley and Public Radio International's The Tavis Smiley Show. Smiley is also the bestselling author of 16 books. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa616ec90) out of 5 stars 202 reviews
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa61b7108) out of 5 stars A remarkable achievement Sept. 12 2014
By Judith Kelsey-Powell, Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tavis Smiley's genius is to isolate the last year of King's life (though never losing sight of the context of the entire life) to shine a light on " the fear and trembling and sickness unto death" that seems to be the inevitable destiny off all great spirits. We must never forget the totality of King's great mission of combating racism, poverty and militarism. As I read this book, especially regarding his discomfort with Coretta's activism, I reflected as I often have that he surely would have learned the lessons of feminism if he'd lived a little longer. I suspect that he would have been shocked but then proud that it was his daughter who followed him into the pulpit. But I digress.
King's last year crystallized the important insight that the Christian obligation to pick up the cross brings more pain than glory. The church has prettied-up that stark symbol of state-sponsored execution. King was not executed by the state, but the government he had indicted as the "greatest purveyor of violence" must be considered complicit in his death. No national holiday or monument can remove the blood stains from our hands until we fulfill the promise of American democracy that he articulated at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa61bd3e4) out of 5 stars Incredible and remarkable book in the same spirit of Alex Haley's "Autobiography of Malcolm X" Sept. 24 2014
By Charles Franklin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
"Death of a King" is one of those books that changed my life after reading it. Never have I read a book that so intricately described a person that I have heard about so much in my life. Tavis Smily (with David Ritz) put together a truly powerful book that shows the complexity of following your heart, even when the crowd is no longer with you.

In this book, you see the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the "I Have a Dream Speech". The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who had to battle people questioning his moves against the Vietnam War, questioning the efficacy of non-violence, and people questioning whether Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. really could bring about the "Dream" he so believed in.

Yet, you also get to the see the other side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is rarely discussed. You see the Dr. King, who likes to joke, is worried about his duties as a father, listening to Aretha Franklin, and trying to keep his struggling non-profit together. You'll see the depressed side, the personally morally conflicted side, the angry side, the tired side, and more.

After seeing so many frozen images of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. as a civil rights activist, this was the first book I read that treated him as a human.

It's a truly multi-faceted and well-researched book that I would put in the same category of Alex Haley's "Autobiography of Malcolm X". I encourage anyone who wants to do a deeper study of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and his life to read it.

I got this book from the library, but I'm buying it for my personal collection. There is great content for reflection in each chapter. It is amazing that Tavis Smiley was able to capture the essence of Dr. King's life in one year in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa61bd6f0) out of 5 stars What a story! Sept. 15 2014
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Really loved this book which is not only well written but tells a story that few knew. Here was a man who in spite of his own acute depression and the hatred of nearly the entire nation Dr King never gave up his belief in nonviolence. This story of Dr Kings last year on earth paints a picture of a real flesh and blood man and not the card board saint we have created in our minds.

Mr Smiley is to be congratulated for telling this story which portrays Dr King as a real person warts and all.
72 of 89 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa61bd894) out of 5 stars OK to Challenge Racism and Poverty -- NOT OK to challenge militarism and the national security state Sept. 12 2014
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The publisher has done a rotten job of summarizing this book. Here, paraphrasing the author as he just spoke on the Jon Stewart show, is the bottom line:

The minute that Dr. King turned against militarism and denounced the USA as the greatest purveyor of violence upon the world, he was first marginalized and then assassinated. "The System" was fine with Dr. King focusing on racism, and even poverty, but it would not tolerate for one moment his questioning the military-industrial complex and the national security state.

The author -- whom I found to be very inspiring, coherent, and concise -- a brilliant articulator of the key points in the book -- goes on to have a conversation with Jon Stewart about how the USA simply cannot handle truth-tellers in relation to "big money" matters such as elective wars (racism and poverty being "little money" matters, and deliberately so).

Dr. King was ultimately assassinated by a US Army sniper on detail to the FBI and under the personal direction of J. Edgar Hoover. The story is told in An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King and has also been documented and validated in a judgment by a federal court awarding the King family the single dollar in damages they requested.

I will mention in passing, because somehow Reddit noticed it today and sent the world to my website, that Henry Kissinger, the dowager empress of the political servant class, is a war criminal (see The Trial of Henry Kissinger) and now famous for two quotations, both immortalized at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog:

Military men are 'dumb, stupid animals to be used' as pawns for foreign policy

and, my personal favorite that captures everything wrong with the two-party tyranny of political servants to the financial class:

"The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer."

Dr. King died because he recognized that our national security state has turned both our own country and the world into a cesspool instead of heaven on Earth, and this is one of the reasons we have problems not just with poverty, but with illegal immigration. In my view, the best way to honor Dr. King today would be to dismantle this national security state (along with the two-party tyranny) and reboot American democracy by putting ALL of the people back into self-governance. NO ONE now considered a candidate for president in 2016 has the combination of intelligence and integrity necessary to form the necessary coalition to make that happen. Please buy the book -- this may be one of those world-changing "aha" experiences we all so desperately need if we are to restore the idea that is America.

A few other books that complement this one in the above context:

War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier
Grand Theft Pentagon :Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror
Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny
935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity
The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa61bdc60) out of 5 stars Stunning Achievement about an American Hero Oct. 7 2014
By Mary Ellen Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
When reading the speeches of MLK and seeing old footage of him on the Washington Mall, I had no idea of the personal and professional struggles he endured the last year of his life. Beset on all sides by criticism, infighting and charges of irrelevancy, King was certainly far from the mythic figure we celebrate today. He was fully human, which makes his daily struggles that much more heroic. He sacrificed all for his conviction that he must be a walking embodiment of unconditional love. I was awed by his ability to listen to criticism without defending himself, and always, always return to his number one issue: poverty in America.

Martin Luther King was not only prescient in his criticism of America, his criticisms resonate even more in 2014. He was a prophet who continues crying in the wilderness. Politicians and leaders pay him lip service, give his ideas a perfunctory pat on the head and invoke his name without any intention of fulfilling even the smallest portion of his vision--if they even begin to grasp it.

DEATH OF A KING should be required reading in high schools and universities and for all activists who believe they are the only ones beset on all sides by sniping and in-fighting. Tavis Smiley is to be commended for writing a simple yet eloquent remembrance of a man who, despite his flaws, defines the word "greatness."