Smiley's goal, which he mostly achieves, is to personalize King, to show him in full and, in doing so, to display the radical behind the soaring rhetoric. [Taylor] Branch, in his three-part biography of King, portrays him as a latter-day Moses, a largely unimpeachable and, therefore, largely unknowable figure. But in Smiley's book, the more apt biblical figure is Christ: a revolutionary who sins, suffers and doubts, and yet somehow triumphs…Smiley's King is at once more flawed and more human than we have come to see him. But for that reason he is even more courageous, and more admirable.
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Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King's life, revealing the minister's trials and tribulations -- denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country's black middle class and militants, assaults on his character, ideology, and political tactics, to name a few -- all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty, and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.
Smiley's DEATH OF A KING paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a narrative different from all that have come before. Here is an exceptional glimpse into King's life -- one that adds both nuance and gravitas to his legacy as an American hero.
Smiley, a veteran public broadcasting host and prolific author, chronicles the last year in the life of the civil rights leader, highlighting the more difficult facets of King’s political and personal journey that contemporary audiences may not fully grasp. Smiley takes on King’s point of view in the midst of often contentious interactions with advisers, friends, and confidants. Smiley provides a naturally engaging voice, drawing on his television and radio background, and his warm demeanor reinforces the intimacy he aims to establish with his subject, such as when he refers to King as “Doc,” which was his nickname among his most trusted colleagues. As he move back and forth between elements of expository material, dialogue, and speeches, Smiley’s style of delivery vacillates between a straight-ahead reading of the narrative and a performance that attempts to recreate conversations from the past. These rocky transitions may deter from the overall listening experience; however, the power of the message and the significance of Smiley’s personal involvement in preserving a more vibrant record of Dr. King’s life cannot be denied. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Sept.)
"In his last year, what kind of man had Martin Luther King, Jr. become?" is the question Smiley (What I Know for Sure) raises, asserting that he has "come to firmly believe that, in a critical way, is misunderstood." The book focuses for the most part on the year between King's April 4, 1967 anti-war speech in New York and his April 4, 1968 assassination in Memphis, but also passes through such earlier landmarks as the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington. Snippets from King's sermons, speeches, and press conferences abound, along with tidbits from the media coverage of the time. Smiley also covers King's marital problems, depression, smoking and drinking habits, musical tastes, and even his (hypothetical) internal thoughts. Smiley's referring to his subject throughout as "Doc," which was King's nickname among his "most trusted colleagues," here comes across as distracting. It is, however, typical of the book's chatty prose, which stumbles when attempting weighty references ("Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane") or lyricism ("The sea sparkles with moonlight.") The answer to Smiley's opening question appears to be that King became deeply concerned with peace and poverty, no great revelation for anyone even passingly familiar with the history of those years. But Smiley's efforts to show the man who was his hero since he was a young boy adds a dimension to the reams of writing about Dr. King. Agent: David Vigliano and Thomas Flannery Jr., Vigliano Associates (Sept.)
Winner of the Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award "A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint.... [A] poignant account of King's final struggle. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light."—Kirkus Reviews
"Tavis Smiley has captured not only the spirit of the movement, but the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last days. We didn't realize it but he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem, and as much as we tried to deter him, he fought back."—Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Mayor of Atlanta
"Death of a King is a fitting climax to a noble saga. It is here adequately told and placed before history."—Reverend Gardner C. Taylor
A "microscopically focused biography, which trades in both weighty events and the everyday joys of family life."—Time
"Tavis Smiley has brought forward in his book Death of a King an accounting of the last year Dr. King was physically with us an accounting very much needed. Tavis rightfully emphasizes the error it is to continually emphasize his martyrdom mostly with no mention of the great work he did. Tavis's book helps people focus on his work and the spirit with which he worked."—Dorothy F. Cotton, Education Director for SCLC, the organization led by Dr. King
"Tavis Smiley illuminates the passion and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last 365 days."—AARP's Editors' Picks
"One of the most important political voices of his generation."—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A dramatic retelling of King's final and pivotal year."—Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer
"Death of a King paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a revealing and dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to King's assassination."—Nicole M. Robertson, The Oakland Press
"Smiley also serves as the reader for the audio, a factor that gives another level of personalization to the already gripping narrative. In the introduction, Smiley remembers how when he was growing up, he recited the speeches of Dr. King in order to "find his own voice." And what a voice it is. Smiley's narration is smooth, measured, and backed by a rich, authoritative tone that truly adds another level of sentimentality and familiarity to the audio. Recommended for history buffs and those interested particularly in Dr. King."—Brian Odom, Booklist
"A must-read.... ... King feels like a real person instead of a larger-than-life caricature."—Kelvin Wade, Daily Republic
This brief history details the final 12 months of Dr. King’s life, with special emphasis on his speeches and the direction in which he wanted to take the Civil Rights movement. That we know how it ends in no way detracts from the book because the enrichment, as in most instances, is in the journey. Author Tavis Smiley also narrates this book. He has an open, accessible voice that is decidedly not trained for narration. He swallows some words, his diction alternates between muddled and exacting, and his attempts at varying his pitch and tone succeed at times but descend into breathless enthusiasm at others. Nonetheless, his Southern accent and earthy, uneven approach accentuate the personal message of this work. R.I.G. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine
A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint. The humanity and moral conviction of this great civil rights leader emerge in talk show host Smiley (Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure, 2011, etc.) and co-writer Ritz's poignant account of King's final struggle. In the introduction, Smiley asserts that King's "martyrdom has undermined his message" and that during the last year of his life, the Nobel Prize winner returned to his original message of nonviolence with all the conviction of his preacher's soul. The author catches up with the beleaguered minister as he is headed to Manhattan's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, for what would be a definitive and divisive sermon denouncing the Vietnam War—indeed, he attacks "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the American government. King—whom Smiley refers to as "Doc," since that is what his colleagues called him, and it takes him off his pedestal—was excoriated widely for his anti-war stance not only by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (with whom King had worked closely for the passage of several civil rights bills in Congress), but especially by black critics like Carl Rowan and leading newspapers for introducing "matters that have nothing to do with the legitimate battle for equal rights in America." Yet King believed that black soldiers dying for a senseless war in Vietnam was immoral, and he continued to insist in his speeches that "the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together." Depressed by the rioting in cities, drinking heavily, guilt-ridden by his affairs and plagued by death threats, King nonetheless found in poverty the message that drove him finally to stand with the Memphis sanitation workers in his final hours. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light.