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At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 Hardcover – January 10, 2006
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The Civil Rights Movement brought out the best and the worst in the American character; over almost 3,000 pages, Branch assembles the facts, interviews the survivors, and bears witness. The first volume, Parting the Waters, traces Martin Luther King's rise from obscure Baptist preacher to a civil rights leader forged in the crucible of the Montgomery bus boycott. Pillar of Fire goes from JFK's assassination to an abrupt, somewhat unsatisfactory ending at the beginning of the 1965 Selma campaign. At Canaan's Edge starts with the triumph of the Montgomery march and ends with King's assassination in 1968.
The author describes his approach as a "narrative biographical history," that uses King's life to illuminate broad American themes. There's more narrative than history in these volumes. Very seldom does Branch take the long view, or give us contextual exegeses. What he does give us is compelling, often brilliant reporting that features participant interviews, a deep dive into formerly classified documents, and a you-are-there look at the conversations, strategy sessions and public theater of the friends and foes of civil rights. These books aren't exactly a King biography, a history of the Civil Rights Movement or a history of America during a time of wrenching change, and yet they're all these things, the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts.Read more ›
Branch has done us a wonderful service by devoting the last 25 years of his life to chronicling MLK's life and the life of America during the struggle for civil rights. As usual, Branch is detailed, infinitely knowledgeable and obviously deeply devoted to his work and his subject. I recommend this book --all of his trilogy actually -- with great admiration and gratitude. Branch pieces together the inward and outward life of MLK in such a wonderful, well-researched project that is as impressive as it is eye-opening.
In this volume Branch traces the last years of King, the years post-March on Washington, the years when many in the movement decided that non-violence was not the correct line. Our memory of King ends largely at the "I had a dream" speech and passes over these years when King, took the logical step of expanding his quest for justice to the North, against poverty and against Vietnam.
Each step in that expansion cost King allies. Whites who were courageously against southern racism, turned out not to be so courageous when it applied to their own states. King's opposition to Vietnam found opponents within the Black community. And no one wants to talk about class.
Today it is common to contend that King `declined' in these years, or became `irrelevant', and we assume this is a judgment on King. Reading this book, I became even more convinced that the judgment is on us. King was faithful to his belief in God, in Christ and the non-violent way of the cross to the end, proving beyond any doubt his sincerity, his faith and his integrity. America took a profound wrong turn in those years, or perhaps, failed to grasp the opportunity presented to it.
While this book is as meticulously researched, as detailed and as broad in vision as the previous two in the series, it suffers from occasional bouts of confused writing. Every 50 pages or so you have to read some incident twice or three times before it becomes clear. His account of the Memphis march and the final days of King curiously lack impact.
Still, the story itself is compelling, and King's gradual abandonment as he journeys in faithfulness towards his Golgotha is epic and cosmic in its meanings for our time.
This book is especially worth reading if you think this is a story you already know well; because Branch manages to surprise you and extend your understanding without ever losing sight of the landmarks of well established facts.
This truly is history as it should be written, and while the second book is admittedly a bit weaker than the first and third, they are all excellent and Branch more than deserves a second Pulitzer for the final book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In the racially charged atmosphere of 2016, Taylor Branch's trilogy recounting the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. has become newly relevant. Read morePublished 24 days ago by Robb Hansen
This book i purchase for a friend who uses it to write essays (as and aid and back ground information) . It was also available for student history.Published 2 months ago by wilma wan
I was 18 in 1968 when MLK was murdered. It was a surreal time for only 2 months later Bobby Kennedy was murdered. Read morePublished 7 months ago by L. Mahoney
Great book, extremely well written. Every white person in this country should read it and the other two books of this trilogy.Published 14 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 16 months ago by I. Martinez