King: A Life

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UPC: 9780374279295
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Authors: Jonathan Eig
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  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 688 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0374279292
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0374279295

“Supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling and compulsively readable . . . Eig’s book is worthy of its subject.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"[King is] infused with the narrative energy of a thriller . . . The most compelling account of King’s life in a generation.” ―Mark Whitaker, The Washington Post

Named a most anticipated book of 2023 by 
The Washington PostThe Millions, and Literary Hub

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.

Vividly written and exhaustively researched, Jonathan Eig’s King: A Life is the first major biography in decades of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.―and the first to include recently declassified FBI files. In this revelatory new portrait of the preacher and activist who shook the world, the bestselling biographer gives us an intimate view of the courageous and often emotionally troubled human being who demanded peaceful protest for his movement but was rarely at peace with himself. He casts fresh light on the King family’s origins as well as MLK’s complex relationships with his wife, father, and fellow activists. King reveals a minister wrestling with his own human frailties and dark moods, a citizen hunted by his own government, and a man determined to fight for justice even if it proved to be a fight to the death. As he follows MLK from the classroom to the pulpit to the streets of Birmingham, Selma, and Memphis, Eig dramatically re-creates the journey of a man who recast American race relations and became our only modern-day founding father―as well as the nation’s most mourned martyr.

In this landmark biography, Eig gives us an MLK for our times: a deep thinker, a brilliant strategist, and a committed radical who led one of history’s greatest movements, and whose demands for racial and economic justice remain as urgent today as they were in his lifetime.


“Supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling and compulsively readable . . . The first comprehensive biography of King in three decades . . . and it supplants David J. Garrow’s 1986 biography Bearing the Cross as the definitive life of King, as Garrow himself deposed recently . . . [Eig’s is] a clean, clear, journalistic voice, one that employs facts the way Saul Bellow said they should be employed, each a wire that sends a current . . . Eig’s book is worthy of its subject.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

King: A Life might be described as a deeply reported psychobiography . . . infused with the narrative energy of a thriller . . . Eig does a particularly nuanced job of conjuring up the mind-set of Coretta Scott King in the years before she emerged as a forceful activist in her own right . . . The most compelling account of King’s life in a generation.” ―Mark Whitaker, The Washington Post

"A sober and intimate portrait of King’s short life . . . Eig captures the ferocity of the forces that opposed King . . . He also captures King’s sense of theatre, his enormously canny ability to stage confrontations that heightened the contrast between the civil-rights movement and the people who wanted to stop it." 
―Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

"Jonathan Eig’s magnificent new biography is an overdue attempt to grapple with King in all his complexity. His book will inevitably draw comparisons with 
America in the King Years . . . [King: A Life] is a more traditional biography, and the book benefits from its narrower focus. It gives the reader more insight into the multifaceted man himself. . . . Eig makes [King's] courage and moral vision seem all the more exceptional for having come from a man with ordinary flaws." The Economist

"Eig’s monumental work, the first major biography of Martin Luther King Jr. in decades, challenges the image of him as a peaceful advocate of incremental change. There’s plenty of new detail, including from recently declassified F.B.I. files, allowing King to emerge as a complex, humane figure." 
―J. Howard Rosier, The New York Times

"Drawing on recently released FBI files, telephone recordings and interviews for this first full-scale biography in decades, Eig acknowledges King's frailties and failures, as well as his radical critique of economic inequality and the war in Vietnam . . . Eig enriches [the] familiar narrative of King's activism with moving stories." 
―Glenn C. Altschuler, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"In this biography, his sixth book, Eig writes like an Olympic diver who jackknifes off the high board, slicing the water without a ripple. He performs with sheer artistry, like Picasso paints and Astaire dances." 
―Kitty Kelley, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Definitive . . . Monumental . . . An extraordinary achievement and an essential life of the iconic warrior for social justice.” 
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] sweeping biography. Eig gives a rousing recap of King’s triumphs as a civil rights leader . . . [A] complex, nuanced portrait . . . Eig’s evocative prose ably conveys his bravery, charisma, and spell-binding oratory . . . An enthralling reappraisal that confirms King’s relevance to today’s debates over racial justice." 
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The most comprehensive MLK biography to date . . . Eig refuses to ‘defang’ King, instead pushing Americans to recognize the radical nature of his demands for justice and his resistance to not only racism but militarism and capitalism.” 
Booklist (starred review)

"Mining a trove of materials―many only recently available―augmented with voluminous archival work and hundreds of interviews for personal insights . . . [Eig] recovers the man, foibles and all, from the too often hollowed-out, sainted symbol that competing ideologies have sanitized for national observance . . . Engrossing . . . A must for readers interested in moving beyond clichéd catchphrases to see a more complete and complex King." 
Library Journal (starred review)

"Groundbreaking . . . 
King is such a nuanced, detailed biography, it’s like having Martin Luther King sitting in your living room." ―Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times

"The first major biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in over a generation, 
King is a major achievement. With eloquence, compassion, and grace, Jonathan Eig offers a stirringly contemporary and complex portrait of a fully human―and humane―King, whose contradictions, frailties, and shortcomings worked in tandem with his brilliance, resilience, and genius to fundamentally transform American democracy and the world. King brilliantly recovers the defiantly courageous, radically democratic, and revolutionary anti-racist, anti-poverty, and anti-war activist who inspired as much hate and revulsion as he did love and compassion. A resounding triumph." ―Peniel E. Joseph, professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Sword and the Shield

"Greatness and opacity more often than not seem to go hand in hand: the most important among us seem out of reach, inscrutable, indifferent to our entreaties for human detail beyond the sensational or salacious. But here, Eig has pulled off a kind of miracle. Here is the King we know, think we know and ought to know. Here is the leader, the preacher, the orator, the husband, the father, the martyr, the human being―not with melodramatic halo in place, but in all his heroic, tragic Glory. Hallelujah!" 
―Ken Burns

“Jonathan Eig's book is the most comprehensive and original King biography to appear in over 35 years. Digitization and the web have made a slew of new documentary resources available, and Eig has mined them superbly. He is thus able to paint the first 25 years of King's life more richly than ever before, and to offer fuller portraits of three of the most important people in King's adult life: his wife Coretta and his closest male and female companions, Ralph Abernathy and Dorothy Cotton. The result is a great leap forward in our biographical understanding.” 
David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama

"Finally, a biography of King that takes seriously Coretta Scott King's political, intellectual and personal contributions." 
Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks

“With the detective mind of an historian, the lyrical precision of a poet, and the techniques of a master storyteller, Jonathan Eig makes Martin Luther King, Jr. come alive as a complex personality. He retrieves King’s extraordinary gifts, incurable optimism, and amazing heroism as a leader while not ignoring his frailties, doubts, and vulnerabilities. This book is a perceptive and necessary contribution to the biography genre in King studies.” 
Lewis V. Baldwin, author of The Arc of Truth: The Thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Jonathan Eig’s 
King is an exemplary masterclass in biography: Eig's knowledge of the subject matter is scholarly, his discovery of new and untapped historical sources is relentless, and his prose is gripping. This is a captivating story of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: a child scarred by pervasive racism, a man haunted by racist violence and death threats, a minister hunted by his own federal government, a human being afflicted by all-too-common human frailties, and a citizen who somehow managed to have an uncommon Christian faith and the courage to speak truth to power. Eig’s King is not just a welcomed contribution to MLK biography, but also a call to confront our own humanity, and a summons to bear witness against the societal evils that plagued King’s time and persist in our own." ―Dr. Lerone A. Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

"Jonathan Eig’s biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is destined to be a classic. Eig elegantly depicts King’s life with a sensitivity and intimacy making him more than a static icon. In this biography filled with exhaustive interviews and wonderfully written vignettes, King is placed in the context of community, family, and friends, showing his powerful strengths and his all too human flaws. Most importantly, Eig depicts King’s single-minded commitment to radically transforming the United States from an unjust republic based on a hierarchy of race and wealth to one that encompasses the dreams of all God’s children. I hope it is read by everyone." 
―Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America

King is a deeply absorbing, powerful lens for examining the Civil Rights Movement. Jonathan Eig’s compelling look back reveals a complex leader, driven by his faith and an unflinching determination to stamp out racial injustice, yet dogged by personal conflicts and relentless secret government efforts to discredit him." ―Karen Gray Houston, author of Daughter of the Boycott: Carrying on a Montgomery Family’s Civil Rights Legacy

About the Author

Jonathan Eig is a former senior writer for The Wall Street Journal. He is the New York Times bestselling author of several books, including Ali: A Life, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. Ken Burns calls him "a master storyteller," and Eig's books have been listed among the best of the year by The Washington PostChicago TribuneSports Illustrated, and Slate. He lives in Chicago with his wife and children.