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King: A Life (2023)

av Jonathan Eig

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346576,390 (4.51)19
"The first full biography in decades, "King" mixes revelatory and exhaustive new research with brisk and accessible storytelling to forge the definitive life for our times"--

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Visar 5 av 5
This is the first M.L. King biography I’ve read, so I can’t say whether any new ground has been broken by Eig. I can say I learned a lot about the great man that I didn’t know before. I knew he had a checkered relationship with Lyndon Johnson, especially after King became vocal in his opposition to the war in Vietnam. In fact, King became the target of strong criticism from many individuals and groups over his opposition to the war other than Johnson. Of course, we now know that King’s assessment of that war was right and the others’ was wrong. I also had heard about King’s womanizing but typically dismissed most of it. Eig gives a lot of space to this topic, although he makes sure to say that almost all of this information is from FBI surveillance transcripts of wiretaps, some legal and some illegal, which were ordered by J. Edgar Hoover, a Director whose legacy is far from admirable. In other words: consider the source. Also, judged by today’s standards, who cares? This book is getting generally good reviews, and rightfully so, in my opinion. I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of the civil rights movement and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life. ( )
  FormerEnglishTeacher | May 8, 2024 |
As the Brits say, No man is a hero to his valet, and one might suppose that no great man will emerge from a non-hagiographic biography with his reputation unscathed. But I found that Dr. King may be the exception. His extraordinary bravery and single-minded devotion to his moral goals are only amplified by his human failings. As Dick Gregory comments at the end of the book, What makes King different from Jesus? Jesus is hearsay. Don’t mean it didn’t happen, but there’s film of King…. ( )
  markm2315 | Feb 16, 2024 |
Summary: A new biography of King that focuses not only on his civil rights leadership but his personal life and struggles.

The sources for the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life continue to open up as both government records and new private sources become available to researchers. Jonathan Eig, in writing this biography had access to these and offers a portrait of King that not only underscores his greatness but the complexity and humanness of the man. We have the man of peace who would talk with a man who assaulted him, forgive him and refuse to press charges. We learn of a man of courage, who knew his life would likely be ended by an assassin’s bullet. We hear the eloquence of a man who lifted us all by his “dream” and challenged our complacency with the Letter from Birmingham jail. Yet there are also the moral inconsistencies of his plagiarism of portions of his dissertation and his appropriation of material his sermons and his affairs with women and his guilt-ridden struggle with his unfaithfulness.

Other biographies introduce us to all of these. Eig takes us deeper. He explores the powerful influence of his father (also a womanizer) and his attempts to define himself apart from Daddy King, particular when this meant going against the powerful peope who were his father’s friends. Another powerful influence on his life was Coretta. Arguably, she was initially more deeply committed to civil rights than Martin but as the call upon his life became clear, she was fully on board as a partner, despite the restrictions she faced as a woman in the male world of the Black church and civil rights leadership. She endured the imprisonments, the threats on the lives of the family, the modest life they maintained. It seems she may be worthy of a biography in her own right.

Other accounts have discussed J. Edgar Hoover’s animus against King and the surveillance by the FBI that revealed many of King’s sexual affairs. Eig goes deeper into this, particularly his long relationship with Dorothy Cotton. Like David Garrow, he discusses memos of recordings at the Willard Hotel, where King was allegedly on hand as a woman was raped by a Baltimore pastor, Logan Kearse. Eig is more reluctant than Garrow to credit these, recognizing the effort of the FBI to smear King. Both note the recordings themselves remain sealed until 2027. Eig discusses at length the anonymous letter with a compilation of recordings sent to King to induce him to commit suicide. Neither King nor the FBI come out looking good here–King persists in affairs even when he knows he’s being surveiled.

Eig explores deeply King’s relationship with other civil rights leaders. I had never before realized the importance of Ralph Abernathy in King’s life. He was both alter ego and counterbalance–the trusted friend and fellow pastor with whom King could confide, laugh with, and it appears, even carouse with. Eig also develops the tensions that arose, particularly in the years after the March on Washington, a high water mark. King acted intuitively, could raise money but did not have the organizational talents sorely needed in movement leadership. Furthermore, as racist forces doubled down and President Johnson became more engulfed by Vietnam (which King opposed), it became harder for King to persuade those who felt violence was the answer, of its futility.

Eig also develops King’s opposition to the Vietnam war and his courageous stand which he knew would alienate Johnson and others. King recognized how the war would thwart the efforts of Johnson’s Great Society, robbing it of money and focus in the national agenda. He also recognized the disparate proportion of Black young men who were dying.

The book explores King’s struggles with depression, particularly as divisions and resistance developed and his attempts to address northern racism struggled. Some, no doubt was simply exhaustion as King drove himself hard to fulfill his sense of call. While never formally treated, he did consult with a psychiatrist. Mostly, it was his friends, including Abernathy who would pull him away long enough to regain equilibrium.

What Eig also gives us is a man of deep religious faith, who believed his calling was from God, whose trust was that God would carry him through, even in the daily face of death. One particularly senses this in Eig’s accounts of Kin’s last visit to Memphis and his prescient message of the night before.

Eig covers both familiar ground in this biography as well as take us deeper into the complicated man King was. King’s namesake Martin Luther once stated that “God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.” Eig shows us both a courageous leader and a grievous sinner who would be excoriated for his plagiarism and called out by #MeToo and #ChurchToo for his treatment of women. He also shows us how King’s life offered America a mirror in which to see itself and recognize the deep stain of racism. His vision for non-violence, for justice, and for a reconciled beloved community was a gift that the America of his time sadly rejected. The book reminds us of the truth we are inclined to deny and of the gift that we continue to refuse. ( )
  BobonBooks | Oct 18, 2023 |
An excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., freshly written, using the latest sources from the F.B.I. and King's associates. It tells the story of King's thought and his life and his movement in great detail. It is, as of now, the best biography of King you can get. And King is one of the most important Americans in its history.

Still, Eig has his faults. Eig does not shy away from King's sexual infidelities and peccadillos, but—leftist modern he is—does not seem to condemn him in any moral way or moral tone. In fact, Eig—leftist modern he is—focuses more of his ire on the fact that King and his buddies, Bible-believing Baptist ministers from the early twentieth century South, discount the opinions of women and didn't place them in more prominent roles in their churches and organizations. The tonal tut-tutting is there for that, but not the infidelity. Eig does the same thing too with King's rampant plagiarism: he mentions it, but explains it away, as many commentators have done, by ascribing it to the Black culture of borrowing you see in music (jazz, blues) and sermons, etc. In fact, Eig again has more tut-tutting not for King's theft of intellectual work, but the fact that his professors and advisors—white professors and advisors mostly—didn't catch it.

Eig too—leftist modern he is—wants to make King far more "revolutionary" than he probably was (and more "revolutionary" than most Americans may imagine). Sure he had some democratic socialist leanings and wanted more egalitarianism when it came to property, money, etc. But he was no Che or Bernie, as his thought on such manners was rather amorphous and not yet thought out. As to what really mattered, his stance on civil rights and civil equality, his timing and method and fight against the status quo may be revolutionary, by any definition, but it was what conservatives term a "conservative revolution" because he wanted only the rights that Black Americans (and others) should have by the right of their natural rights as endowed by their Creator.

I will say that Eig is good on pointing out King's religious feelings were a prime mover in his life and work. The voice of God in the kitchen before the Montgomery Bus Boycott was no mere literary flourish, but the testimony of man who believed in God.

I will say that Eig—leftist modern he is—takes an unfounded and unnecessary swipe at Ronald Reagan. For no reason. From page 555: "...Reagan, whose policies were disastrous for many Black Americans...." Huh? Of course, there is no footnote for this leftist, false drivel. Because it is leftist, false drivel. Eig—leftist modern he is—uses the clunky euphemism treadmill neologism "enslaved person" for "slave." So deep does this leftist, Orwellian Newspeak run that Eig has to butcher parts of King's "I Have a Dream Speech" so as not to say the verboten Oldspeak. Instead of the eloquent, soaring, and euphonious "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood" Eig concocts the clunky, dull, and cacophonous "He has a dream, he said, that the children of slave owners and the children of those they'd enslaved would sit together 'at the table of brotherhood'" (p. 337). Shameful. I am actually surprised he kept "brotherhood" and didn't amend it to "personhood" or "humanhood" or somesuch progressive malapropism.

So, a good biography, though not perfect. It could have used more pictures. Maybe even a map or two. It had notes, but in the modern, clunky system. Index too. ( )
  tuckerresearch | Oct 12, 2023 |
For the first part of this book, I couldn't help wondering what King's legacy would have been like--or if he even would have had one--if he had lived during our day, with rampant social media and cancel culture. But as I got further along, I kept seeing parallels between the civil rights era and today, so much so that by the end I was feeling like society hadn't made any progress at all since the '60s. People still resist change, only now we have the internet to make our voices heard, for better or for worse. And we are still dealing with a lot of the same issues King dedicated his life to eradicating.

This book has a lot of value for our time, and not just because it sheds light on how much work is still to be done. It's a good reminder that our leaders and heroes don't have to be perfect to change the world. King was a far more flawed man than I realized, but his legacy is still worth something. ( )
  AngelClaw | Jul 20, 2023 |
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"The first full biography in decades, "King" mixes revelatory and exhaustive new research with brisk and accessible storytelling to forge the definitive life for our times"--

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