THE ABSTRACT: “King: A Life” is a magisterial reappraisal of a great man’s legacy.

In the great city of Atlanta, in the year 1929, was born a child named Michael King. Later, he would change his name to Martin Luther King, inspired by a 1934 voyage to Germany’s heartland. This boy, growing under his mother’s calming influence and his father’s stern discipline, cultivated within him a commitment to civil rights, crystallized through the desegregation he observed in the North.

Jonathan Eig, in a penetrating and expansive biography King: A Life (FSG) has gone further than previous chroniclers, delving into King’s formative years, his education, his struggles and triumphs, his loves and betrayals. This man, this King, was not untouched by human frailty, as Eig tells us, drawing with an historian’s brush but a novelist’s eye.

King’s childhood had its special moments and its extraordinary influences, like a church choir at the Gone With the Wind premiere or Thoreau’s incantations on civil disobedience. And it was with Coretta Scott, his partner, his muse, that he built a life, starting in Montgomery, Alabama.

Here, King began his epic struggle, his fight for the rights of the Black man. It was an immense and colorful tapestry he wove, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the famous marches in Washington and Selma, earning the acclaim of some and the relentless persecution of others, such as the shadowy Hoover’s FBI.

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Eig’s sweeping narrative captures the grandeur and tragedy of King. He does not shy away from the dark corners, the plagiarism, the womanizing, but neither does he forget the charisma, the bravery, the oratory that shook the very foundations of a nation. And he paints, with broad and masterful strokes, a King who was a revolutionary, a radical, a visionary. He was a man touched by despair but never bowed by it, challenging the likes of Malcolm X, reshaping the South, and calling out for reparations for slavery, for a guaranteed minimum income.

In the tumult of self-doubt, governmental harassment, King kept faith. Though he was struck down in 1968, his legacy continues to thunder through the ages. King: A Life, a rich and sprawling epic, a true novelistic exploration, presents this flawed but luminous figure, a man who was at once a symbol, a warrior, and a dreamer, and whose life and ideas still touch the very soul of America and the world beyond. It is a work, one can say, worthy of the man it describes, and a true achievement in its own right.

WORDS: Earnest Hutton (@earnesthutton)

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