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A Review of Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 4, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A LifeMartin Luther King, Jr.: A Life by Marshall Frady

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to read this book because I admittedly don’t know much about Martin Luther King, Jr, and I decided that now that I’m middle aged, it’s high time I learn something about such an influential man. And so, this book.

Marshall Frady did a good job at capturing the highlights AND lowlights of King’s short life, and I learned a lot. One thing that annoyed me about the book, however, was the fact that Frady has an enormous vocabulary and doesn’t hesitate to employ it in his writing. I can’t imagine how your average reader would understand half the words he uses. I have three English and writing degrees, and I found words I’d never heard of or knew what they meant. It was unnecessary and I felt like Frady was showing off, perhaps because he’s a narcissist, I don’t know. It was frustrating.

I learned that Martin was born Mike and that he got his Ph.D. at Boston University. I learned his father was an Atlanta preacher, and that King later served at the same church, after he had been at a church in Alabama. I learned about the marches, the details of non-violent demonstrations, the arrests and jailings. I also learned an awful lot about the beatings the non-violent black marchers took, sometimes lethally. It was truly horrifying to read about, and to think that this happened right before I was born was quite shocking. These people endured a lot, a whole lot more than I had realized. I mean, people were freakin’ KILLED by white supremacists! Maybe I should have known that, but I didn’t. It was appalling.

I learned about highlights like Montgomery, Selma, the DC speech, and others. I also learned things I wish I hadn’t been exposed to. For instance, King was a major horn-dog! I mean, on his last night on earth, he had intimate encounters with two separate women back to back and had to turn a third away early in the morning. He had no control over his enormous sexual appetites, and that was disappointing. He was also vulgar, and smoked and drank secretly. All heroes have flaws, and he was human after all, but it was still disappointing to learn these things. I also didn’t realize how many failures King had, how he was oftentimes given the shaft by both white and black society. After essentially winning the civil rights battle, he turned his attention to creating the Poor People’s Campaign, which was basically about his goal of turning America into a socialist country. People fled from him like crazy when he started working on that. I didn’t know. I also didn’t know about the virtually dialectical relationship he had with Malcolm X, nor had I realized what a large role Jesse Jackson played in his later campaigns. It was disappointing to read about how a man who had done so much for the black community through non-violence was largely discounted when the Black Power movement started, how he was thrown by the wayside.

I can’t give this book five stars because of the author’s irritating style of using a dictionary to write the damn book, but I think it’s worth four stars because you learn a great deal about King, warts and all, and I think it ultimately gives one a greater appreciation for what he did for black people and the country as a whole.

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