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America in the King Years, 1965–68

A-AtCanaansEdgeThe last three years of the life of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.—from the unrest in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and the Voting Rights Act later that year to his assassination in Memphis in 1968—were characterized by a private turmoil that mirrored the public struggles of the movement to which King had dedicated his life. The efforts of King and his followers in the Southern Christian Leadership Council are intertwined with the war in Vietnam and President Lyndon B. Johnson; Branch describes internecine feuds, extramarital affairs, and King’s tendency toward depression in those final years. Still, Branch points out, King persevered, his message of nonviolent resistance the keystone to a compelling legacy.
Simon & Schuster. 1,056 pages. $35. ISBN: 068485712X

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At Canaan’s Edge completes one of the most heavily researched, best-written, compelling biographies in the history of publishing. … The crowning achievement of Branch’s King trilogy is to show anew the moral power of non-violence." Steve Weinberg

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is at once a celebratory, elegiac, profoundly inspired, and at the very end troublingly flawed triptych which in the fullness of time will be compared fairly and favorably to Carl Sandburg’s meditations on Abraham Lincoln. … Only Dr. King’s own words bring me more powerfully into his presence than do the words of Taylor Branch." Ray Rickman

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Branch’s massive and deeply impressive study is bound to attract new and large audiences, and rightly so. … At Canaan’s Edge offers a needed corrective to popular misconceptions of King’s life, not merely restoring his powerful moral critique of Vietnam and poverty in America but also reminding us just how much the now-celebrated King was criticized, dismissed, and harassed in his final years." Eric Arnesen

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Branch’s] narrative should satisfy readers who look for bottom-up as well as top-down histories of the civil rights movement. … At Canaan’s Edge is a deeply researched book that completes a superior narrative trilogy of America’s civil rights struggles between 1954 and 1968." James T. Patterson

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The volume is a sprawling and less cohesive production than the preceding installments of the author’s trilogy. In aspiring to capture a myriad of momentous events that occurred during some of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, Mr. Branch has ranged far and wide across the political and social landscape, often resorting to newsreel-like summaries of developments, while pelting the reader with incidents and facts in the place of analysis and perspective." Michiko Kakutani

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At Canaan’s Edge offers disappointingly little new or original historical information. … Branch goes on countless narrative tangents, including various odd asides about baseball stadiums and players. More worrisome, he uncritically retells some anecdotes that are impossible to verify." David J. Garrow

Critical Summary

Branch’s trilogy, America in the King Years, conceived nearly a quarter-century ago, runs to more than 2,300 pages. The author brings his subject to a close with an ambitious, meticulously researched, sprawling tome that follows his Pulitzer Prize–winning Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963 (1989) and the well-received Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963–1965 (1998). Reviewers draw comparisons between Branch’s effort and Carl Sandburg’s celebrated six-volume study of Abraham Lincoln from the first half of the twentieth century. At Canaan’s Edge suffers on occasion from its desire to be a comprehensive look at King and his times (one reviewer remarks that Branch too readily rehashes old information). Nonetheless, it is a passionate, detailed, and important examination of a larger-than-life figure.