The quick-read version of the author’s three-volume America in the King Years, focusing more on dramatic high points than narrative context.
The best that can be said of this slim, digestible book is that Pulitzer winner Branch (The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, 2011, etc.) was in charge, and he knows where to cut and how to stitch. As the title suggests, this is a series of scenes from the civil rights struggle, drawn from the three volumes of Branch’s massive trilogy: Parting the Waters (1988), Pillar of Fire (1998) and At Canaan’s Edge (2006). For students new to the subject (or readers in a hurry), this book gives a solid sense of how the civil rights movement grew under Martin Luther King Jr., from the day he was drafted to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 to his assassination on the steps of a Memphis motel in 1968. The chapters along the way hit all the watershed events: the Freedom Rides, the 1964 March on Washington, the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi, the polarizing effect of the civil rights bill on the Republican and Democratic political conventions, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s poisonous campaign against King, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and the way a defiantly nonviolent movement splintered into more radical groups under Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. Branch seamlessly weaves together different parts from separate volumes to provide a coherent story in each chapter, and the stories are well-told but occasionally frustrating—readers will often want more.
Though no substitute for the larger epic, the book is a reliable gloss on a troubling era.