Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the key figures in the past century of the American experience. This book is not an actual autobiography as Dr. King didn’t actually write one. What you have here, instead, is a carefully and lovingly produced work that simulates an autobiography from an author that had access and undertook greatly scholarly effort to piece together King’s own writing to create an autobiography (that doesn’t exist). In a word, the author (Clayborne Carson) did a superb job.
The subject matter of the African American experience over the past few centuries can be harsh and overwhelming. This book necessarily goes into the heart of much of that, at least during MLK’s important time. Despite the intensity of some of these events, the central focus remains true of telling the story of MLK Jr. and it does that in a warm, personal, and historically important way. This book is not a difficult read as it shows many tender moments of the King family and their friends.
I wanted to read a book recently about Dr. King that refreshed me on King and allowed me to reflect on both him as an individual but also our collective recent history. I don’t appreciate commercialized images that are built of celebrities as they are repetitive and lacking substance. I was very pleased with this book in that there’s no typical Hollywood storyline or character arc that I’ve suffered through so many times. Instead, I got what I wanted, a real, personal, often harsh, sometimes terrifying, and loving portrayal of the man and the time.
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Between the Lines
A few key themes jumped out to me in my reading of the book. One is how great history is often told, in a way that is unapologetically unscripted, chaotic, and occurring by chance. King, in his own words and others around him, clearly recounts what worked, what didn’t, and how & why during these historic years.
Pondering readers will also gain much insight into individual beliefs, mass influence behaviors, and the obstacles to and pace of change for humanity. This will provide hope, sometimes crush enthusiasm, but always provide sobering insights of how change occurs and the realities of our social fabric.
A final theme is how much love was simply the focus of King’s intentions and methods. He was heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and critically understood the power (and requirement) for peaceful protest to get real societal change. Both this understanding and the careful execution of the same couldn’t have been more compelling.
This is an important book and ‘required reading’ not only to understand history and where we’ve come from, but also as a tool to continue understand ourselves and to forge a better path forward as a society.