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King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop Hardcover – December 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Sitkoff covers the major points in the time line of King's life and the Civil Rights movement—from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington, his anti–Vietnam War activism and assassination in 1968—but this brief, rudimentary volume will enlighten only the most novice student of Civil Rights history. The author passes through major moments in an informal tone that borders on the flippant (King the gentle Jesus had bested [Birmingham police commissioner Eugene Bull] Connor the sadistic Satan). Sitkoff (The Enduring Vision, co-editor) attends to the civil rights leader's flaws as well as his accomplishments, noting King's early plagiarism and making frequent reference to his sexual dalliances (King flitted from one thinker to another at almost the same rate as he wrecked young women). Though Sitkoff includes excerpts from King's books and speeches (jazzed up with audience responses, e.g., All right, yessir!), neophytes are better served by David J. Garrow's Pulitzer Prize–winning Bearing the Cross, which Sitkoff acknowledges in his ample and gracious Bibliographic Essay.
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“Sitkoff provides a vivid portrait that deserves to be widely read, not only as the standard short King biography but also as an incisive essay on his significance today.”—The San Francisco Chronicle
“In his admiring new biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop (Hill and Wang, $25), Harvard Sitkoff wants to remind us of his subject’s subversive agenda, and to banish the ‘airbrushed’ portrait of a ‘moderate, respectable ally of presidents’ . . . Mr. Sitkoff argues that the more militant King is the more relevant King. And he’s right.”—The New York Observer
“Persuasive… Sitkoff’s skillful choice of material, his organization of the text and his fine writing style (especially compared with most academic historians) raise the biography to the top rank of books about King.”—The News and Observer
“An excellent and necessary short biography.”—The Brooklyn Rail
“A valuable addition to King scholarship… King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop is clearly the best short biography we have of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Its lucid and accessible style makes this text appealing far beyond a limited community of experts. It’s a must-read for all who have an interest in King’s life and legacy.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A marvelous read and striking achievement! This engrossing and perceptive biography offers a balanced yet critical analysis of both Martin Luther King Jr. and his epochal times in their full complexity.” —Waldo Martin, U.C. Berkeley, author of No Coward Soldiers: Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America
“In this richly accessible and commanding study, Harvard Sitkoff provides a timely reminder of the enduring significance of Martin Luther King’s spiritual strivings and quest for social justice.  A welcome contribution to the King canon, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop brims with insights into the African American most emblematic of the modern Civil Rights Movement.” —Darlene Clark Hine, Northwestern University
“Drawing on his expertise in the history of the civil rights movement, Harvard Sitkoff has produced the finest brief biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The man who emerges is not the homogenized King celebrated every January, but a radical critic of military adventurism and economic and racial injustice, who speaks to the present as powerfully as to his own time.” —Eric Foner, Columbia University
King is a perfect combination of author and subject: one of the deans of civil rights history tracing the life of the movement’s towering figure. Harvard Sitkoff has performed a remarkable feat, giving us a biography of Martin Luther King that is simultaneously concise and complex, judicious and deeply moving. What a marvelous recounting of this most important of American stories.”—Kevin Boyle, Ohio State University, author of the National Book Award-winning Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age
“Sitkoff’s book on King reads like a dream. Packed with vibrant quotations from King himself, it becomes a living narrative of how this giant among American political leaders moved on his mission to serve his people and his God, undeterred by the fearsome obstacles strewn in his path by everyone from his own father to the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, to President Lyndon Johnson. A spellbinder, it brings all the good work of David Garrow and Taylor Branch to bear on understanding this critical figure of our time, and in less than 300 pages.” —William Chafe, Duke University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809095165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809095162
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William G. Adams on May 17, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story of Martin Luther King's life in and of itself is moving. Sitkoff interprets King's endeavors, trials and successes, wonderfully in the book King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop.

Sitkoff does an excellent job mapping out King's life, exposing King as a radical Liberal, opponent to presidents, peace advocate, and strong opponent of the Vietnam War.

The autobiography also exposes America's flawed society which rejects change and "radicalism." In particular, America rejecting King's opposition to the War in Vietnam. King opposed Vietnam, and the consensus of historians in 2009 view the war as a major mistake and a foreign policy failure. Sitkoff points out King saw this in the 1960s, and everyone rejected his ideas and wrote him off as a lunatic. King's story has stood the test of time, and he has gone down in history as one of the greatest peace and equal rights advocates in America's history.

Sitkoff created a masterpiece, exposing King's flaws and his strengths, making the average American able to relate to such an important historical figure. Sitkoff doesn't white wash King as a moral leader, nor a religious figure whatsoever. Sitkoff points out the flaws that King possessed, but also King's successes and strengths leaving you to be the judge how important King was to America.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeff on July 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is certainly no shortage of books written on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and for obvious reasons. King was a revolutionary, a leader, and a common man all at the same time. Through his struggles he helped to improve the lives of millions of Americans and stood up to a government that did not always secure its own promises. King also had his downfalls. He often ate too much, engaged in sexual acts on the side of his marriage for much of his life, and smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. He was only human but at the very same time a great role model. There is no question that many are intrigued by this man and his triumphs. Because of the many pieces of literature written on King, one would really have to find deep characteristics of the man and his role in history to spark the interest of the common reader towards their book. In King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop the author, Harvard Sitkoff, paints a vivid image of Martin Luther King's struggles and triumphs to demonstrate that the Civil Rights Movement leader was entirely committed to his cause.

The birth, death, and everything in between the life of Martin Luther King is covered in chronological order in this book. From his college days to his first gigs as Reverend, from Montgomery to Albany. Even King's lesser known campaign against the War in Vietnam, which seriously severed his acquaintance with President Johnson, is taken on in attempt to present King as not being limited to the equality cause (177). Sitkoff, a true admirer of King, descriptively paints King's life in order to lay the groundwork for the reader and then interprets King's goals and ideas. Sitkoff takes the reader through the private behind-the-scenes matters that played throughout the Reverend's life.
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Format: Paperback
I thought I knew a lot about Martin Luther King Jr. Well, I was wrong. I knew very little compared to how much I learned by reading this book.

This is a great man. My admiration for him has grown tremendously by reading this wonderful book! As he himself admitted, he had flaws (and was a sinner, to use his words) just like everyone else. But, if this book is to be believed (and I think it is), he was a man who, more than anything else, followed his conscience.

He was deeply affected by racism, as everyone knows. But he was equally appalled at the poverty he witnessed in the richest country on earth. And he lashed out against the Vietnam War when it was still quite unpopular to do so. Despite many threats to his life (including from the FBI), he never backed down from doing what he felt he needed to do, no matter what the personal risks. And he had an uncanny ability to inspire thousands and tens of thousands of others (both black and white, but by far mostly black) to stand up to police brutality, possible loss of their jobs, and myriad other types of harrassment and danger to fight (non-violently, of course) for their rights.

I learned a lot about a very great man by reading this book. I highly recommend it to everyone, but especially to people living in the United States. It says a lot about this country, both then and now. I just read in the Washington Post that 40 percent of African American children in the U.S. are born into poverty (compared to 8 percent of white children!), and one out of every three African American boys born in the past ten years in this country will spend time in jail or prison before they die. What appalling facts. And without a doubt, these statistics are intimately linked to one another. Martin Luther King Jr. would have his work cut out for him if he were alive today. And I have no doubt whatsoever that he would rise to the occasion and do everything humanly possible to correct these horrendous injustices.
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By David Lisbona on November 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
A powerful, very readable, biography of a great man who, in spite of his personal failings, should be a great example to us all. Sitkoff's story takes us from MLK's studies to his (and the black peoples of Montgomery, Alabama) phenomenal but arduous success in changing bus segregation to the less visible achievements of later years.

Not only did King have to struggle for black peoples' rights, he had to struggle to keep the fight non-violent. It was very tough, he didn't always succeed and even he realized that militancy sometimes was more effective than non-violent protest.

It is incredible for us in the the 21st century to imagine the depths of racism, discrimination and segregation that existed in the world's most famous democracy only 50 years ago. This year , on Martin Luther King Day, a black president was inaugurated in the USA. Even though much implicit racism still exists , the advances have been stupendous. MLK would feel that his dream had largely been fulfilled.
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