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Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-64 (America in the King Years #2)

4.35  ·  Rating Details ·  1,860 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
In "Pillar of Fire", the second volume of his America in the King Years trilogy, Taylor Branch portrays the civil rights era at its zenith. The first volume, "Parting the Waters", won the Pulitzer Prize for History. It is a monumental chronicle of a movement that stirred from Southern black churches to challenge the national conscience during the Eisenhower and Kennedy yea ...more
Hardcover, 746 pages
Published February 2nd 1998 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 1998)
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Clif Hostetler
Dec 29, 2014 Clif Hostetler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is the second of three volumes that comprise America in the King Years, a history of the civil rights movement. Taylor Branch won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for his work on this project. This book covers the history of the civil rights movement between the years of 1964 to 1965. I listened to an audio version which was abridged. I usually shun abridged versions, but I don't have time to make it through the unabridged 2,500 pages of the three volumes.

Lyndon Johnson successfully encouraged
Mikey B.
Dec 12, 2012 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This matches the greatness of the first volume. The first one hundred pages recapitulate some of “Parting the Waters”. It is astonishing how Taylor Branch can expertly weave between the high and mighty – President Johnson, Martin Luther King and the low and mighty – Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses.

The level of brutality in the Southern States, but particularly Mississippi, is unforgivable. Who are these people who beat Civil Rights workers and bombed churches to stop their fellow citizens from voti
David B
Jan 28, 2017 David B rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second volume of Taylor Branch’s towering trilogy about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement covers so many momentous events, such as the assassinations of John Kennedy and Malcolm X, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, King’s Nobel Prize, and America’s entry into Vietnam, that it is difficult to believe that it spans a mere two years that also witnessed the exodus of black America from the Republican party to the Democratic.

King’s commitment to nonviolence in the face of overwh
Mar 20, 2015 judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the second book in the 3 book series and follows what may be my favorite history of all time--Parting the Waters. I'll admit this book confused me at first because it was repeating events from the first book but not an actual duplicate. As a result it jumped around for slightly more than the first hundred pages. My patience was rewarded. When he got to the new part this book covers, it was every bit as remarkable as the first book. One of Branch's greatest strengths is letting us know wh ...more
Aug 02, 2011 Clif rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This, the second book of Branch's trilogy on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's ramps up the action starting after the assassination of JFK.

Though the Montgomery bus boycott was the first civil rights breakthrough and involved Martin Luther King, Jr., it was students and their sit-ins that broke things open, starting a train of events including the Freedom Rides and a full court press against segregation in the South.

King is the center around which the books are built and we foll
Sep 15, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Both this and the first volume, Parting the Water are excellent (i haven't yet read the third volume). Althought MLK is the central figure, it really isn't a biography of King--it's a history book.

I was born in 1962 and have hazy memories of a few of these events--but what an amazing period. From this vantage, it's easy to gloss over how horrible things were back then. One of the things I like about these volumes is that Branch devotes a lot of time to the lesser known stories and personalities
Jun 10, 2010 Donna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Americans and all interested in Justice
Shelves: history
This book is the second volume in a three-volume history of the American Civil Rights Movement. While Martin Luther King is the focal point around which much of the story is told, in this volume particularly he is less of a motivating actor than many of the others involved in this Movement.

Parallel to the Civil Rights Movement, another movement in the African American community was rising, namely the Nation of Islam and its break-away member, Malcolm X. Malcolm appears in this volume almost as m
Craig Werner
The second volume of Taylor Branch's trilogy on the King years never coheres in the way Parting the Waters does. That's primarily because the second part of the story is simply less coherent than the first. Branch opens the narrative with the showdown between members of the Nation of Islam and the Los Angeles police, signaling the fact that the center of the story is no longer simply in the South. Throughout the book, he spends much more time outside the African American Freedom Movement, inters ...more
Rick Boyer
Feb 15, 2013 Rick Boyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tremendous book. Tells the story of some of the pivotal years of the Civil Rights Movement. Critically important for not only understanding our American past, but for understanding our present as well. In this text, Branch covers the politics, morality, ethics, and personal stories of race; the gigantic courage, passion, and vision, as well as the human foibles of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement; the inner workings, challenges, and palace intrigue of the Nation of Islam; and the press ...more
Apr 30, 2011 Bap rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second volume of the monumental history of America in the King Years. This volume covers the period 1963-1965. Robert Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, Malcolm X, along with the civil rights Heros populate these pages in a period of confrontation, conflict and change. It is simply incredible how much was changed during these years. Of course the segregationist and racists did not disappear entirely. They repackaged themselves. Still the triumph of civil rights for people of color is amazing. So ...more
Jun 10, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leaders inspire, while it takes a village to become a movement. Awesome to consider how many people, each with their own unique story, were creating the "Civil Rights Movement". This book works to capture a broader scope of this time period, including the Bob Moses, Ralph Abernathy's, Fannie Lou Hamer's, etc, impelling me to better appreciate the power of a group of dedicated, centered people working together.
Dec 14, 2008 Meg is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
After a long hiatus I've returned to Taylor Branch's amazing trilogy. The extremity of the South's determination to prevent people from having the most basic of rights is mind-boggling. And the lukewarmness of the response from outside the South is nauseating.

I often wonder what I would have done in those times. Would I have been brave enough to enter the fray? Or would I have merely been intellectually outraged?
Dec 20, 2010 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read the entire trilogy out of order. Although this book focused on MLK and his struggles, was interested to learn more about Malcolm X and the struggles for voter registration in Mississipi. J. Edgar Hoover was a terrible person and this book confirms some of his worst practices. Great writing and really brought back this part of the early 1960s into focus.
Dec 13, 2011 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the second installment of Taylor Branch's trilogy of "America in the King Years", encompassing 1963 to 1965. I don't usually pay attention to the hyperbole of book blurbs, but I related to the one listed in this edition, which declares this book, and its companions, as a "masterwork" comparable to Carl Sandburg's "Lincoln" or Shelby Foote's "Civil War". Time will tell how much these Branch volumes endure in defining our collective images of our heroic struggles, but these books are unpar ...more
Apr 17, 2014 Christy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
“Stokes raised both hands toward [LAPD officer] Weese, who shot him through the heart from about eight feet.”

This sentence depicts the fatal escalation of the April 27, 1962 conflict between the LAPD and members of the Nation of Islam temple no. 27. The chaotic sequence of events that led to the killing of Ronald X Stokes started with this: outside temple no. 27, Monroe X Jones asked Fred X Jingles to inspect some suits in the trunk of his car to help determine of they had resale value. Two whit
Danny Marcalo
Jan 30, 2017 Danny Marcalo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the first part of Branch's narrative of the civil rights movement. This one is also a very good book. However, the first 50 pages or so are a little technical, not as personal as I perceived the first book. Then again, it's been a year since I read the last one and maybe I just needed some time revisit all the characters and their jobs within the movement. Branch offers much detail, sometimes even day-to-day descriptions of important events between 1963 and 1965. I think it is good, that ...more
Jan 21, 2013 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not much of a review here. More of a celebration with a dash of self-critique: I'm finally done! This might be the book it took me the longest to read ever. I even posted this on March 1 (almost three months ago):

I really can't get into this book. The first section was such a slog, in part because it is more cluttered and devoid of the seamlessness of Parting the Waters. Or maybe it is a retread? Part 2 hasn't been going very well either, and it's not holding my interest. I'm surprised, consider
Oct 02, 2016 Mehrsa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Must-read history of an exceptional man and an exceptional era. All three books are wonderful--top notch research and analysis.
Marilyn Pronovost
Mar 06, 2013 Marilyn Pronovost rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story rich in reporting the chaotic history of the 60's as it relates to civil rights and the interplay with Vietnam. Out of chaos comes some order but not always when it seems that it should.

The most significant thing to be seen here is both the deepest baseness of humanity but yet the courage in others to stand up to the worst parts of our nature. Maybe this is why this era is so fascinating, the struggle between good and evil. Only good doesn't always triumph. It wins some and loses some. I
Hank Pharis
This is the first of a three volume history of the Civil Rights movement with an emphasis on Martin Luther King Jr. All three are very good. MLK was not perfect but he was incredibly brave. He knew his assassination was virtually inevitable. And yet he continued to push forward in his quest for justice (which was spiritually driven). It occurred to me in reading these three volumes that while many whites resented King he in many ways saved the U.S. from what could have developed into a virtual r ...more
Joyce Lagow
Jul 16, 2009 Joyce Lagow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history, history
The second in Taylor Branch's trilogy on the Cicil Rights era,this was an extraordinarily difficult book to read, and I had to stop several times simply because of being sickened by the horror of the Southern white reaction to the Freedom Rides and voter registration efforts of Southern blacks. It is also a history of the shameful acts of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and many of his sycophantic subordinates who lied and schemed, eavesdropped and did their best, to no avail, to discredit Martin ...more
Sarah Simmons
I wanted to give this work 4 stars but I can't. My thoughts on the second part of Branch's trilogy require me to look at the book in two parts: 1) Part 1 ("Birmingham Tides") along with the Epilogue (to which I'd assign a grade of C or C+), and 2) everything else (which easily garners an A).

Pillar of Fire began in confusing and disjointed fashion with the first chapter. Seeing as the first book (Parting the Waters) focused on 1954-1963 and Pillar of Fire was from 1963-1965, overlap was, obvious
Jul 28, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The second in Taylor Branch's authoritative trilogy America In The King Years has a broader scope than Parting The Waters because so much happened in the country from the time of LBJ's swearing in on Air Force One to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We learn about the deceit which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and thus to the Vietnam War, the charismatic but troubled Malcolm X and his assassination ordered by the corrupt and immoral Elijah Mohammed, LBJ's masterful shepherdi
Jun 26, 2012 Kappy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Hooray! I finished the second book of Taylor Branch's wonderful trilogy about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. It has taken me 5 years to finish these first two books (reading many books in between). The books are long and dense with history, but very readable. The print is small! This book was 613 pages. The final book in the trilogy, At Canaan's Edge, is 771 pages long and same small print. I will start and finish it over many months.
There were so many moving passages and desc
Glen Murrin
I was not quite as satisfied with this book as I was with "Parting the Waters". I am sure that this is partly due to the enormity and complexity of the subject - "America in the King Years, 1963-1965". So much happened during this period. One major event after the other led to each crowding the others out of the news and makes writing a history of the period episodic and choppy. Thus the net result is another major achievement for Taylor Branch. He describes well the enormity of the tasks Martin ...more
Dec 12, 2016 Odhran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quality overview of the civil rights struggle of the period. I can see why this is the standard work on the subject.
Jonathan Menon
Apr 26, 2014 Jonathan Menon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unlike Parting the Waters, the first book of Taylor Branch's trilogy of the Civil Rights movement which covered nine years, from 1954 to 1963, Pillar of Fire wrestles with the enormous expansion of activity in the movement between 1963 and 1965. With so much going on, and so many important characters to be responsible to, it's amazing that Branch has been able to craft a narrative at all, let alone one with such power. The most surprising thing about the story for me, though, is how minuscule Ma ...more
Feb 27, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know it may say it on front of the book but I have to co-sign what that journalist said: this does feel like you've just lived through that time period. i've read the first two parts of the trilogy and am amazed at what Branch is able to do and this should be required reading for any American (or anyone interested ni American history) that went to public school where they condense King's life into a one day bullshit lie-filled lecture.

the most interesting aspect of this book for me was the eme
Jan 27, 2008 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't like it quite as much as Parting the Waters, but still felt like essential history. So much detail about the internecine politics of the Nation of Islam, SNCC, SCLC, the democratic party, various city and state governments, and the Johnson White House that it was more difficult to follow. But worth reading if for no better than to get the stories of Fannie Lou Hamer, James Bevel & Diane Nash, Wallace Muhammad, and as a companion piece to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. When the book ...more
Mar 02, 2009 Karlyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
While Branch's first segment of his King trilogy is extensive, his lack of analysis (critical or otherwise) is disappointing, at least, and damaging, at the extreme. Branch's narrative is undoubtedly engaging, but it is highly unfortunate that, taking into account sheer volume with an all-encompassing title, readers can potentially come away feeling like they have read the definitive work on the civil rights movement. As King, the SCLC and the black church take center stage, SNCC's organizing in ...more
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Taylor Branch (born January 14, 1947, in Atlanta, Georgia) is an American author and historian best known for his award-winning trilogy of books chronicling the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of the history of the American civil rights movement. The third and final volume of the 2,912-page trilogy — collectively called America in the King Years — was released in January 2006. Branch live ...more
More about Taylor Branch...

Other Books in the Series

America in the King Years (3 books)
  • Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
  • At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68

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