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Stokely: A Life Hardcover – March 4, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Stokely Carmichael achieved iconic status during the turbulent 1960s with his call for black power. He was widely perceived as a strident counterpoint to the more diplomatic Martin Luther King Jr., the icon of the civil rights movement. But historian Joseph offers a more nuanced portrait of this activist, who started as a community organizer fighting for and with the underclass and who jolted the racist core of the American consciousness. He broadened the scope of his humanitarian concerns beyond the U.S. to develop a Pan-African perspective. He married South African singer Miriam Makeba and developed close friendships with African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré, further provoking the suspicions of an already suspicious U.S. intelligence force. Like King, Carmichael became a critic of the Vietnam War, and following King’s assassination the civil rights establishment distanced itself even more from Carmichael. Despite Carmichael’s highly racialized rhetoric, his personal humanistic values suggested a closer link to American core values than many may have thought. --Vernon Ford

Review

2014 winner of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change National Book Award

Daily Beast Best Books About the Volatile 60s



New York Times Book Review

“An insightful, highly engaging and fluently written biography”



Washington Post

“Joseph’s account of Carmichael’s life is well-written and well-researched, providing persuasive explanations for his appeal.... Joseph’s biography fills a huge void and is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on the civil rights movement.”



Boston Globe

“This is at its heart a book of ideas — ideas about power, freedom, and identity — and of a life, the author writes, that ‘took shape against the backdrop of a domestic war for America’s very soul.’”



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Mr. Joseph’s detail rich biography delves into the life of a political activist turned icon while not forgetting to show us his human side.”



Post & Courier

“A thorough and engaging account of one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement. Stokely achieves its primary goal of restoring Carmichael to his rightful place in the pantheon of influential Americans.... Offers delicious details, thoughtful analysis and a good amount of drama concerning this enigmatic figure.... Joseph’s landmark book is the best portrait yet of this important, complicated man and the America he so wanted to love but could not.”



Daily Beast

“An unflinching look at an unflinching man.”



Counter-Punch

“Peniel E. Joseph’s newly published biography of Black liberation activist Stokely Carmichael not only takes its rightful place next to Taylor Branch’s epic trilogy The King Years, but also to one of the most powerful autobiographies by any American: Stokely Carmichael’s own Ready For Revolution.... Stokely: A Life is a quality read. By highlighting the life of one of the US civil rights/black liberation most important organizers and thinkers, Peniel E. Joseph has done a great service to history and to the people Stokely fought for. Furthermore, Peniel’s text has lifted Carmichael out of an obscurity he not only didn’t deserve, but which also prevented a more complete understanding of a man who, with Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., deserves to be recognized as one of the great leaders of one of the greatest grassroots movements for liberation in history: the Black freedom struggle in the United States.”



Afro-American

“Meticulously-researched and painstakingly-detailed, Stokely: A Life is a fast-flowing, informative read which intimately follows its subject from the cradle to the grave in absorbing fashion. In the process, this powerful portrait effectively re-positions him as an uncompromising prophet who played a pivotal role in the struggle for black equality.”



Amsterdam News

“A thought-provoking biography.... A brilliant bio with plenty of brio”



Publishers Weekly

“This stunningly thorough appraisal of this radical activist, 50 years after the ‘heroic period’ of the civil rights movement, is both timely and relevant.... Should surely be considered required material for a fuller understanding of a critical, and ongoing, American struggle.”



Kirkus

“Joseph showcases the brilliance of the man, his exceptional ideals and his pursuit of an equality that was years ahead of his time.”



Booklist

“A...nuanced portrait of this activist, who started as a community organizer fighting for and with the underclass and who jolted the racist core of the American con
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books; 1st edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013630
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a disappointment this book was. I was so excited to read it because, as someone involved in civil rights and anti-war activities in the 1960s and 1970s, I was very aware of Stokely Carmichael and found him incredibly interesting. Stokely challenged us every step of the way, as he went from leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Black Panthers. Did we share the frustration with the white establishment that moved him from nonviolence to the violence the Panthers espoused, along with their free breakfast programs for inner city kids? Were we willing to accept that nonviolence had not done the job for African-Americans? To accept that violence might be a viable alternative? And when he eventually left the United States for Africa, what did that say about all the unfinished business the U.S. had with race?

The problem with this biography is that Stokely never comes alive in its pages. Dr. Joseph is, no doubt, an excellent historian, as his biography implies. The book is filled with footnotes, the Sources and Bibliography section is lengthy and impressive. But facts don't make A Life--it takes a special narrative talent to do that, and sadly, this is a talent that Dr. Joseph lacks. There are long lists of notable people with whom Stokely had contact, but there is rarely a sense of what those relationships were like or of what effect they had on Stokely. The inner life is just not here. Dr. Joseph also has a very annoying habit of ending paragraphs with a sentence couched in the future conditional--In a few years, he would become..., By March, he would be well known, etc. Once again, publishers of America--I am talking to you: A good editor would have helped tremendously.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My impression is that Peniel Joseph tried to wrestle a vast amount of material to the ground and was overwhelmed by the process.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joseph presents a solid portrayal of an important figure who's significance has been under-examined until recently. In many ways, this book is a natural off-shoot of Joseph's previous work, "Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour." Stokely Carmichael, in many ways, occupied a place (philosophically and politically) somewhere between Malcolm X and Martin King.

Stokely finding his place is one of the themes Joseph teases out in this book. (As for those who say that Joseph gives no feel for Stokely the person, they are not reading very carefully.) With Stokely there is the internal, existential, struggle as well as the external, political, quest for identity. Stokely lived in dramatic times and was wrestling with many different and evolving ideas. Keep in mind: Stokely was a young man in his 20s when he was doing all of this. (What did you know about life or the world when you were 20-something? Be honest...)

While solid overall, the biggest shortcoming I see with the book is a lack of detail as to the historical antecedents of what becomes "Black Power." Black Power did not spring from Stokely's mind fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. While I realize that Joseph had a lot of ground to cover, attempting to encapsulate Stokely's entire life, but the book is rather short. I think a short chapter going into the intellectual history of Stokely's beliefs would not burden the text and would be very beneficial for the readers. (Maybe Joseph is assuming that the reader has already read his "Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour," where this history is discussed.)

Standing alone, this book is a solid biography. There are no great revelations here but the book does a great deal to fill in a rather large gap in the history when it comes to Stokely Carmichael. This is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Black Freedom Studies.

Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Stokeley Carmichael embodied the freedom struggle of the 1960s the way that a comet might speak for a candle; he was made of the same stuff, just more so. His lightning illuminated a decade of inspired struggles and merciless losses; morality plays scrawled by saints and cynics trying to conjure revolutionary fire. How we see these dramas tells us who we are.

Joseph, professor of history at Brandeis University, traces Carmichael’s youth in New York City among radical intellectuals. His convictions compelled the 19-year-old to board CORE’s 1961 Freedom Rides. Carmichael spent weeks in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm with a Who’s Who of movement soldiers: John Lewis, James Lawson, James Farmer, and more. Carmichael returned to Howard University that fall a “campus celebrity” and soon to Mississippi to join Bob Moses, SNCC’s humble icon of nonviolence who became his hero.

Carmichael also met heroic black Mississippians, he said, “who took us in, fed us, instructed and protected us, and ultimately civilized, educated and inspired the smart-assed college students.” One thing he learned from these homegrown activists was that sometimes democracy required shotguns. Never a holy believer in nonviolence, Carmichael saw it as a tactical necessity. He attained “legendary stature as an organizer,” fearless and sweet. An “organic intellectual,” in Antonio Gramsci’s phrase, Stokely called SNCC’s protests “the ageless inseparability of intellectual ferment and social ferment, of thought and action.”

By the end of Freedom Summer of 1964, the violence of white terrorists and the betrayals of white liberals had taught him how “racial terror simmered beneath popular national bromides extolling individual liberty and achievement.
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