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Reduced to sound bites and videoclips, Martin Luther King's image has become one of a starry-eyed dreamer and conformist, contends Dyson (Making Malcolm, etc.) in this attempt to reclaim the man he views as heroic and flawed from biographers, conservatives and cultural pundits who, Dyson maintains, have molded King's myth to fit their own political agendas. Readers looking for a linear, biographical text will not find it here. Rather, this is a bracing, at times willfully subjective, political and cultural analysis in which Dyson's signature style is just as surprising and revolutionary as what he presents as King's true message. As usual, this Baptist minister employs poetic, sometimes acrobatic gospel rhetoric, with multiple references to black youth music. One shock to the system is his point-by-point comparison of the similarities between King's and slain rapper Tupac (2pac) Shakur's philosophies. In addition to going on the offensive against the deliberate editing, misquoting and misinterpretations of King's speeches, Dyson tackles such difficult issues as the exclusion of women activists from civil rights organizing. He also deals adeptly with King's adulterous liaisons, his disillusionment with whites, the accusations of plagiarism against him and the troubles in King's marriage. His attempt to resurrect King as an evolutionary and revolutionary thinker who was not "down" with the status quo brings home that his stance on economic equity and the Vietnam War intensified the FBI surveillance that Dyson believed led to his death. In the end, Dyson successfully proves how vital King's true political views and personality are to struggling and frustrated black youth today. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Prolific black intellectual Dyson (African American studies, Columbia) offers a provocative interpretation of King's life, work, and legacy. Dyson tries to restore King's radicalism by focusing on his ideas from 1965 to 1968, painting him as a leader who called for fundamental changes in American capitalism. While trying to understand King's flaws, especially his infidelity, plagiarism, and patriarchal views of women, Dyson nonetheless concludes with a ringing endorsement of King's stature as "the greatest American in our history." The work is over the top in some instances (the suggestion that King and Tupac Shakur had much in common, for example), and it could be considerably shorter. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating study that should be in all but the smallest libraries.--Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Dyson's book is a very interesting, at times provocative, new interpretation of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dyson argues that King "was a man who was deeply human, deeply flawed, yet truly amazing. In the last thirty years we have trapped King in romantic images or frozen his legacy in worship. I seek to rescue King from his admirers and deliver him from his foes." The author does not provide real research findings, but from the ample printed sources he confronts some of the toughest issues raised about King's life in recent years. Dyson focuses especially on King's final years and his changing views on the radical restructuring of the US, his criticism of the Vietnam War, and his acceptance of aspects of black nationalism and black pride. There are also thoughtful and thorough discussions of King's human flaws--his acts of plagiarism, his womanizing, his sensational lack of attention to his wife and family. Dyson also forthrightly confronts recent efforts of the King family to secure perhaps unseemly commercial benefits from the King legacy. Throughout the book, the author maintains an ultimate sense of balance and support for the Martin Luther King of historical reality. That is both refreshing and helpful for any reader. All levels. J. F. Findlay; University of Rhode Island
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Dyson offers scathing criticism of liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, and even former colleagues and the King family for various transgressions, from exploitation to neglect, of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Conservatives have cited King's color-blind teachings in arguments against affirmative action, and the King family has reduced his legacy to fights about intellectual property rights. In this well-documented work, Dyson explores King's little known or forgotten views: his support of the concepts of affirmative action and democratic socialism and his cynicism about white Americans. Dyson explores King's personal failings (his promiscuity and plagiarism), putting them in the context of the life and times of an extraordinary man. Despite King's image as a "safe Negro" leader, Dyson modernizes King's legacy in parallels to young rappers and black nationalists, the current angry voices on race. Dyson, a minister and Columbia University professor, offers passionate and insightful analysis of a man who "helped redefine our country's destiny as a private citizen in a remarkable career that lasted a mere thirteen years." --Vanessa Bush