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A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination Hardcover – January 9, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0470177105 ISBN-10: 0470177101 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Writer and editor Risen accounts for the lead-up to Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and the waves of violence that swept the nation in its wake. Risen's work is eye-opening, emphasizing cagey analysis as well as a recreation of the atmosphere and events following King's brutal slaying. Unquestionably important, Risen's detailed narrative documents each riot individually, offering both statistics and accounts from witnesses and participants in the rioting, looting, and arson. Risen also documents President Johnson's personal struggle to maintain order in a wounded country that increasingly disapproved of him, and speeches made by Robert Kennedy and Stokely Carmichael which are believed to have quelled (at least temporarily) the violence. Perhaps more important than his acute historical knowledge is Risen's perspective on the causes of each riot and the emotional toll they took on the American public, which he correlates directly to subsequent loss of support for the civil rights movement. Debut author Risen, formerly of The New Republic and currently founding manager of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, has crafted a crucial addition to civil rights history, sure to absorb anyone interested in the times, the movement or MLK Jr. 16 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"...Risen provides us with a gripping account of the riots...This is a solid and considerate account of a particular week" (Oxford Times, August 6th 2009)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (January 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470177101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470177105
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clay Risen is the author, most recently, of "The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act," which was published in April 2014 by Bloomsbury, and "American Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit," which was published in November 2013 by Sterling Epicure.

Risen is a staff editor at The New York Times; previously he worked as an assistant editor at The New Republic and the managing editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He has written for numerous national magazines and newspapers, including Fortune, The Atlantic, Smithsonian and The New York Times Magazine. Risen is also the author of "A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination" and a co-editor of "The New York Times' Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation."

Clay Risen lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alex O on January 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Clay Risen's A Nation On Fire is a detailed account of the events leading up to, and the immediate aftermath of, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Although this would seem to be a well-covered topic, Mr. Risen points out that prior to his book's release, this period has never been given an in-depth, book-length treatment, but instead has been described in brief, often as part of larger historical works on the era, the civil rights movement, or Dr. King. In discussing the need for a thorough and detailed look at these pivotal few weeks, Mr. Risen points out both the immediate impact this event had on the nation, as well as the profound and dynamic long-term impacts on domestic policy, social attitudes, and the reshaping of political fault lines - impacts that continue to be felt up to this very moment. In a larger sense, this book does an exceptional job of portraying a snapshop of the nation at a pivotal moment, and on a smaller scale, the impacts that Dr. King's assassination had on several major metro areas, with particular focus on the riots in D.C. For that reason alone, anyone who has spent some time in the District will find this book particularly interesting. The massive riots in D.C. and Baltimore have become something of an historical afterthought outside of D.C. (and some would argue in D.C. as well), but the impact of the riots was so great as to result in the unprecedented situation of the military being brought in to briefly occupy our nation's capital.

So, it's pretty obvious that anyone with an interest in the civil rights movement, the `60's, or just contemporary history and politics, will likely get a lot out of this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By L. Drutman on January 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Living in gentrified NW Washington, DC in 2009, it's hard to believe this city was on the verge of destruction 41 years ago. But that was 1968. MLK had been shot, and the atmosphere was electric. A Nation on Fire takes you there. The storytelling is masterful. The writing is dazzling in conveying what I can only imagine must have been the greasy tinderbox of racial tension coursing through the streets of Washington, and many other cities. But it's not just the story on the streets -- Risen also teases out some long-lasting political reverberations. Who knew that Spiro Agnew was catapulated onto the national scene by his post-riot performance in humiliating moderate black leaders in Baltimore and becoming the bulldog voice of the suburban white frustration? Anyway, highly recommended. Engaging stories, lasting insights.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Andre M. on August 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have a picture of myself on Easter Sunday 1968 dressed up for church a few days after these events took place. At age four, I was just concerned about making an easter speech and playing with my cousins at my grandmother's house and watching the Flintstones. I had no clue what was going on around all this other than watching what I later learned to be Dr. King's funeral on TV while an aunt cried.

It was fortunate that I was far too young to grasp the full grimness surrounding me in my country at that time.

This book is a horrifying , but gripping account of the aftermath of Dr. King's killing. Lots of good interviews, personal recollections, and use of primary sources of the times. To say the country went nuts is a gross understatement. Many Blacks, embittered by the slow pace of Civil rights enforcement (something I experienced myself a few years later as a 70s child in South Carolina), erupted in the major cities and reactionary whites seized the moment. It is not hard to see why this is not being taught to today's students or is covered in detail in documentaries as no one on either side comes out looking particularly good in this horrible episode in US History (except for MLK and RFK's memory and the dignified grace of his immediate family).

A reading of this would give those concerned about the current national scene much pause. The racial situation is nowhere near as bad in Obama's America as it was in LBJ's day. The reactionary right, as ridiculous as they are in the current health care squabbles, are no comparison to the commentators of the time who encouraged whites to stock up arms against Black rioters and gut what civil rights legislation that had yet to be passed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Old Armstrong on January 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a pretty ripping story line. With some interesting figures spinning through the middle of it. A great mix of DC (which I guess you could call local) and national stories. Seeing the play the events had as an increasingly self-aware and existential LBJ wrestles with this late, legacy-concerned, stage of his presidency - a highlight for me. The ups and downs for Johnson and his loyal little cadre make great subplot. Also has perhaps the best on paper treatment of Stokely Carmichael I've yet to come across, but only one of many characters really living in this book. Makes clear the fascinating "cold race war," of which the riots are, I don't know, the Cuban Missile Crisis?
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