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Rosa Parks: A Life Paperback – October 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Most Americans know her only as the 42-year-old seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Her quiet act of defiance is often considered the beginning of the modern civil rights movement, but historian Douglas Brinkley reminds us that it was neither the beginning nor the end of Rosa Parks's quest for justice. On that fateful day in 1955 she was already a veteran civil rights activist, married to a charter member of the NAACP's Montgomery chapter, and a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the many black churches whose congregants organized and fought to desegregate the South. Brinkley gives a thorough account of Parks's political life in the South and in Detroit (where she moved in 1957 to escape death threats), capturing her majestic personal dignity. Yet he also places her activism within a vivid historical context, anchored by extensive interviews with her peers and Parks herself as well as scholarly research. His subject is now a frail octogenarian, but Brinkley conveys the power of her legacy in a moving final scene when Nelson Mandela, just four months out of a South African jail in 1990, embraces Parks as a comrade and a beloved mentor. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the second volume to date of the popular Penguin Lives series to be devoted to a woman (remarkably, only four of the projected 26 subjects will be female), historian Brinkley shreds several key myths surrounding Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who became "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" at the age of 42, when she boldly defied Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat to a white rider on a segregated bus in 1955. The act catalyzed the historic 381-day Montgomery bus boycott and stirred the nation's conscience. Yet Parks has a more complex personality than is suggested by her shy, soft-spoken public persona, Brinkley reveals. Despite a humble, fatherless childhood in rural Alabama, she quickly distinguished herself as a tireless worker with the local NAACP, devoting her energies to area youth groups, recording the problems of victims of hate crimes and participating in the organization's major state conferences. Brinkley (The Unfinished Presidency, etc.) pinpoints the origins of Parks's strength and strong social commitment as he details the legalized segregation that tainted every aspect of Southern life. His short, compelling scenes rivet the reader, although some merely expand on previously disclosed events, such as the wave of jealousy and backbiting among Parks's peers, her resurgence in Detroit politics as an aide to Representative John Conyers and the savage beating and robbery that almost took her life in 1994. Like several books in this series, Brinkley's tribute to Parks succeeds not because of an abundance of fresh revelations but because of its wealth of insight and rich portraiture. Agent, Andrew Wylie; 4-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036005
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Douglas Brinkley is currently a Professor of History at Rice University and a Fellow at the James Baker III Institute of Public Policy. He completed his bachelor's degree at Ohio State University and received his doctorate in U.S. Diplomatic History from Georgetown University in 1989. He then spent a year at the U.S. Naval Academy and Princeton University teaching history. While a professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Brinkley spearheaded the American Odyssey course, in which he took students on numerous cross-country treks where they visited historic sites and met seminal figures in politics and literature. Dr. Brinkley's 1994 book, The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey chronicled his first experience teaching this innovative on-the-road class which became the progenitor to C-SPAN's Yellow School Bus.

Five of Dr. Brinkley's books have been selected as New York Times "Notable Books of the Year": Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years(1992), Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal, with Townsend Hoopes (1992), The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House (1998), Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress (2003), and The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2006).

Five of his most recent publications have become New York Times best-sellers: The Reagan Diaries, (2007), The Great Deluge (2006), The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion (2005), Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (2004) and Voices of Valor: D-Day: June 6, 1944 with Ronald J. Drez (2004). The Great Deluge (2006), was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book award.

Before coming to Rice, Dr. Brinkley served as Professor of History and Director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. From 1994 until 2005 he was Stephen E. Ambrose Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. During his tenure there he wrote two books with the late Professor Ambrose: Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 (1997) and The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisiana Purchase to Today (2002). On the literary front, Dr. Brinkley has edited Jack Kerouac's diaries, Hunter S. Thompson's letters and Theodore Dreiser's travelogue. His work on civil rights includes Rosa Parks (2000) and the forthcoming Portable Civil Rights Reader.

He won the Benjamin Franklin Award for The American Heritage History of the United States (1998) and the Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Naval History Prize for Driven Patriot (1993). He was awarded the Business Week Book of the Year Award for Wheels for the World and was also named 2004 Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He has received honorary doctorates from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Dr. Brinkley is contributing editor for Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly, he is also a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Century Club. In a recent profile, the Chicago Tribune deemed him "America's new past master."

Forthcoming publications include The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the crusade for America and a biography of Walter Cronkite.

He lives in Austin and Houston, Texas with his wife and three children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The most recent in the highly-praised "Penguin Lives" series, Douglas Brinkley's brilliant portrait of Rosa Parks is an example of biography at its best. Brinkley's breathtaking research and literary skill are combined in this book to produce a narrative that not only vividly paints the story of Rosa Parks' life, but that also illuminates the complexities of the Civil Rights Movement of which she was an important part. Beginning with her youth in Tuskegee, Alabama, Brinkley adroitly weaves together the details from Rosa Parks' life which shaped her character and her values. In elegant prose, he depicts the path that led to the legendary day in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on a segregated bus; he then leads the reader through the journey of the Montgomery bus boycott and the half century Ms. Parks has lived since. This slim biography manages to trace the significance of figures from Booker T. Washington, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Nelson Mandela in Rosa Parks' experience without ever losing focus on Ms. Parks herself. It compellingly shows that Parks' religious faith and her unwavering strength of character are essential keys to understanding her life and worldview. Brinkley's "Rosa Parks", however, is not a mere hagiography of an American heroine. The rare interviews that the author obtained from Rosa Parks and the extensive research that he unearthed throughout Alabama and Detroit, where Ms.Parks has lived for many years, provide the foundation for a biography that contains both individual depth and historical breadth. This beautifully written book is certain to become a classic for lay readers and scholars alike.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Katherine F. Peake on October 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who have not experienced the segregated South of the early 50's, this slim volume paints a vivid picture of what life was like for Rosa Parks. Thorough research gives us a rich picture of the influences of the people and forces in her life. Far from being a tired seamstress, it portrays Mrs. Parks as a bright and inquisitive woman, willing to risk everything for what she believed. Disappointments and disillusionment are also chronicled, but we never lose sight of her essential strength.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Every American should know the story of Rosa Parks and all the people who helped dismantle Jim Crow and raise the dignity of all Americans. This is a fascinating and enlightening book that would serve well to be a part of every American's library. Despite its modest size it packs plenty of details most likely not part of the familar Rosa Parks lore. For instance, the bus driver James Blake had previously had a run in with her 12 years earlier and had since become a person she avoided. Also she had attended non violence resistance workshops at a School in Tennesee before her arrest. That her father had left when she was a child and that her husband was a barber who later had a drinking problem. These details give us insight to the human being Rosa Parks was and is today. The most important thing I got from this book is that courage, intelligence and hard work of many people are required to change society for the better.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin G. Gardner on April 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This biography of Rosa Parks presents a very well balanced, fair description of its subject. Regrettably, as with Martin Luther King Jr., social activists and historians have all too often exalted the heroes of the Civil Rights movement beyond the bounds of human existence. This deification is both degrading and unfair, as it not only deprives our heroes of the right to live - and die - as normal human beings, but it also places many of them out of reach - discouraging many to whom them would otherwise serve as excellent role models.
In refreshing contrast to that destructive tendency, this book does an excellent job of peeling back the aura around Rosa Parks and depicting her as the simple, virtuous woman that she is. Brinkley's depiction of her is refreshingly human and honest, and he does a magnificent job of describing her in the simple, straightforward way that so characterizes her.
Also worthy of note is Brinkley's willingness to include so many of Rosa Park's circle of acquaintances in his narrative. From her hard-drinking yet loyal husband to people who have met her only briefly, he touches on their influences on her life, their reaction to her, and what they all mean within the greater scope of her place in our history and society.
Regrettably, whites - with a few notable exceptions - are seen as oppressive, racist boors with a permanent vendetta. Even at that time, that was not true.
Overall, this book is an excellent, enjoyable, and enlightening read - and one that does refreshing justice to the woman and warrior that Rosa Parks is.<P...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By rebelmomof2 VINE VOICE on June 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
I knew who Rosa Parks is. Who doesn't? But I had no idea just what all went on in the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. I literally had no idea. I have been reading bits and pieces of the Civil Rights Movement and the more I read, the more I am appalled that we, as a country, even had to go through something like this. The more I read, the more flabberghasted I am at what Americans in our own country had to endure simply because of the color of their skin. I've never quite understood the hatred and the anger that went on for years and after reading this book, I must say that I have the upmost admiration for Rosa Parks, a gentle woman who was not only bone-tired that fateful day, but was also tremendously involved with ending segration in her own hometown. Then after that fateful day, she was thrust upon a national stage where her name was linked right along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X and other famous leaders of the Civil Rights Leaders.

And what a woman! What a story! I had no idea of what all went on and this book did a great compilation of facts of not only Parks' own history, but of the times and people that went on during those early years. I must say that times were fraught with tension and fear, but Rosa never let it stop her from living her life as she saw fit to live. After reading this biography, she is definitely now one of my favorite heroes of all time. This woman has the courage that not even a lot of men had. She is inspirational even now because she stood her ground because of her moral convictions that it was time to stop all the injustice and craziness that was going on simply because of one's skin color.
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