JESSE by Marshall Frady


The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson
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 An ambitious biography of an ambitious and complex man. For several years journalist and biographer Frady (Wallace, not reviewed, etc.) has been granted close access to Jesse Jackson, whom he first met while covering the civil rights movement for Newsweek in the late 1960s. Yet unlike many authorized biographies, this portrait has nothing hagiographic about it. Frady reports that Jackson is driven by an unusual thirst for public acclaim (former NAACP head Roger Wilkins once said, ``I just wish sometimes that he would not need recognition as much as he does''). And his ambition- -to say nothing of his unseemly rush to don Martin Luther King's mantle after King's assassination in 1968, his ill-begotten alliance with Louis Farrakhan, and his infamous ``Hymietown'' remark--has come close to being his undoing. For all that ego, however, Jackson has rightfully become many things to many people, ``not just a preacher, not just a politician, not just a social activist, not only a militant young black Joshua to his people but also . . . a star of sorts in the nation's pop firmament of the diversely famed.'' Through his hard work and genuine commitment to a multiethnic progressive politics, Frady suggests, Jackson has given hope to what James Baldwin called ``the most dangerous creation of any society . . . that man who has nothing to lose.'' His uncategorizability makes him a complete original, Frady says, perhaps the most original figure in American public life. Ill-used by Bill Clinton and seemingly irrelevant to a younger generation of black activists, Jackson continues to be everywhere at once (Frady calls this ``the Jacksonian physics of reality''), pressing his cause and enlivening the national debate. Well written and well balanced, this is essential reading for students of contemporary American politics in this election year. (First serial to the New Yorker; author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-57586-5
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996