Another sprawling book from a master journalist and historian (The Fifties, 1993, etc.), this one focusing on the early years of the civil-rights movement and some of its unlikely heroes. In the late 1950s, an African-American minister and scholar named Jim Lawson arrived in Nashville, Tenn. A student of Mohandas Gandhi's and an admirer of Martin Luther King's, Lawson began to organize students at area colleges, leading seminars in draft resistance and civil disobedience. A true radical Christian who feared neither prison nor death, he recruited a number of men and women who would carry the straggle for civil rights to all parts of the country. One of them was a Fisk University graduate student named Marion Barry.) Lawson taught his students to turn the other cheek, to get used to being called "nigger," and to be models of decorum and good citizenship, His efforts bore considerable fruit as his seminar students fanned out across the country and helped organize lunch-counter sit-ins and the Freedom Riders, enduring all manner of physical and verbal assaults as they did. Halberstam, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize, was a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean at the time of Lawson's seminars; he traces the story of these brave young men and women, who went on in some instances to occupy positions of power and influence; one, Gloria Johnson-Powell, became "the first black female tenured full professor at Harvard Medical School," while Marion Barry would become famous, or infamous, in his role as mayor of Washington, D.C., and a magnet for scandal. Others in the Lawson group enjoyed less success, however, falling victim to addictions and poverty in some instances, to entrenched racism in others. Lawson himself, Halberstam writes, remains active in civil-rights issues. A powerful account of a critical time in American history, related in both close-up and wide view.