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One of the greatest of American stories has found its great chronicler in Taylor Branch. Beginning with Parting the Waters in 1988, followed 10 years later by Pillar of Fire, and closing now with At Canaan's Edge, Branch has given the short life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nonviolent revolution he led the epic treatment they deserve. The three books of Branch's America in the King Years trilogy are lyrical and dramatic, social history as much as biography, woven from the ever more complex strands of King's movement, with portraits of figures like Lyndon Johnson, Bob Moses, J. Edgar Hoover, and Diane Nash as compelling as that of his central character.
King's movement may have been nonviolent, but his times were not, and each of Branch's volumes ends with an assassination: JFK, then Malcolm X, and finally King's murder in Memphis. We know that's where At Canaan's Edge is headed, but it starts with King's last great national success, the marches for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Once again, the violent response to nonviolent protest brought national attention and support to King's cause, and within months his sometime ally Lyndon Johnson was able to push through the Voting Rights Act. But alongside those events, forces were gathering that would pull King's movement apart and threaten his national leadership. The day after Selma's "Bloody Sunday," the first U.S. combat troops arrived in South Vietnam, while five days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the Watts riots began in Los Angeles. As the escalating carnage in Vietnam and the frustrating pace of reform at home drove many in the movement, most notably Stokely Carmichael, away from nonviolence, King kept to his most cherished principle and followed where its logic took him: to war protests that broke his alliance with Johnson and to a widening battle against poverty in the North as well as the South that caused both critics and allies to declare his movement unfocused and irrelevant.
Branch knows that you can't tell King's story without following these many threads, and he spends nearly as much time in Johnson's war councils as he does in the equally fractious meetings of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Branch's knotty, allusive style can be challenging, but it vividly evokes the density of those days and the countless demands on King's manic stoicism. The whirlwind finally slows in the book's final pages for a bittersweet tour through King's last hours at the Lorraine Motel--King horsing around with his brother and friends and calling his mother (in between visits to his mistresses), Jesse Jackson rehearsing movement singers, an FBI agent watching through binoculars from across the street--that complete his work of humanizing a great man forever in danger of flattening into an icon. --Tom Nissley
Timeline of a Trilogy
Taylor Branch's America in the King Years series is both a biography of Martin Luther King and a history of his age. No timeline can do justice to its wide cast of characters and its intricate web of incident, but here are some of the highlights, which might be useful as a scorecard to the trilogy's nearly 3,000 pages.
Morton's rich voice offers a quiet, understated reading that heightens the intensity of this momentous period of American history, 1965-1968. Branch's 1,300-page book describes in great detail the interplay of personalities, politics and history. This abridgment is so well done that every paragraph feels packed with drama and nothing seems to be missing. The last in Branch's trilogy on Martin Luther King and 20th-century America recounts in known and new carefully researched detail the triumphs, tragedies and moments from Selma to King's assassination. Listeners witness King's constant need to make on-the-spot Solomon-like decisions, the deepening friendships and growing dissension among movement leaders over strategy and tactics (especially nonviolence vs. black power) and the exposure of racism as a national rather than a Southern phenomenon. Branch offers insight into J. Edgar Hoover's malevolent maneuvering, Lyndon Johnson's courage and cowardice, the confluence of the civil rights marches, the Vietnam war, the antiwar movement and race riots across America before and after King's death. Branch's final summary is moving and painful.
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Great book, extremely well written. Every white person in this country should read it and the other two books of this trilogy.Published 2 months ago by Maggie H.
Anything that says Taylor Branch regarding the civil rights movement or Martin Luther King, you can rest assured will be superb. Read morePublished 4 months ago by I. Martinez
Lots of information about what was going on during the civil rights movement. Text is accessible.Published 4 months ago by MICHAEL VAN HOY
Taylor Branch has written such a marvelous and detail accounting of the civil rights movement. I appreciate the detail in which he tells about the lives of the unsung people who... Read morePublished 5 months ago by legacyaustin
a great book - great writing, readable and a great perspective for learning and understanding historyPublished 8 months ago by James Hicks
With such a rich history in the years 65 - 68, this book to me was disappointingly dull. It reads more like a text book than a narrative.Published 11 months ago by SurfCityGal
It was delivered quickly, in excellent condition and the cover was unexpectedly wrapped in clear plastic for extra protection. I was very pleased.Published 16 months ago by Struggling Grad Student