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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year
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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,095 ratings  ·  186 reviews
A revealing and dramatic chronicle of the twelve months leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley recounts the final 365 day
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2014)
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Glynn Scott What I did like about this book is how Smiley helped me to better understand the struggle King faced once the civil rights movement began to take on a…moreWhat I did like about this book is how Smiley helped me to better understand the struggle King faced once the civil rights movement began to take on a much younger more demanding feel and purpose. King's struggles during this time reminds me of the Twlight Zone espisode "We Leave on Thursday" something like that. The head man, after years of taking care of a stranded group of space travelers, finds it hard to accept change when the group is rescued.

King seemed to struggle with the change. Did not seem sure how to handle the shifting tide. Did not seem to understand that black people wanted to more and wanted more faster.

The hints at King's affair was kind of cheap. If you are going to write about it write about it. I have admired King for sometime for how he handled the pressure. And he is the one person I listed most often as the one person in history I wish to talk to. I liked the book based on the information about how King was trying to hold together a dying movement and what happens when a person refuses to accept a new reality.(less)

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Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The writing style was casual and easy to read. Mr. Smiley did not trash MLK in any form or fashion to try to diminish the stature and image we hold for "Doc" as Travis consistently referred to the good Doctor. We do get to see through the eyes and ideas of his closest friends and advisors during the constant comings and goings of this man who tried to serve all those who are oppressed by poverty. Then and now that represents far too many people and the majority of those so oppressed are peoples ...more
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Despite having read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, including that Dr King turned his focus toward poverty and criticism of Vietnam toward the end of his life, I had no idea that his broadened focus was so unpopular, or that the final year of his life was so hard. I know that one reason Smiley said he wanted to write this book was to give people a reality check on how King was perceived during his lifetime. In death, of course, he has become a martyr. And so, it's easy to forget the amoun ...more
James Dooley
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books to focus in on Doctor King's life, by focusing on the last year of his life. Smiley does not glance over King's flaws, but also reminds everyone of what made him an excellent leader.

This book also showed the side of King that no one has seen before, one that is more pessimistic, embattled on all sides by people he once saw as allies in the search for justice, and fighting the charge that he had become irrelevant or obsolete from the rising black power movement.

This book was
Oct 08, 2014 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book as I have a high opinion of Tavis Smiley and, of course, Dr. King. However, after reading half of it I just stopped. It's not a long book either, it just got repetitive for me. And after a while the fictional account of it got to me. Who knows what Dr. King was really thinking? I know that Tavis is a scholar and probably knows as much about Dr. King as anyone. But I just couldn't get through it. I hated putting it down but it was time to move on. (Note: I read t ...more
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
Content: five stars.
Smiley's writing: zero stars.
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
With so many books published about Dr. Martin Luther King, my first thought was why another book on King? But Tavis Smiley along with David Ritz do a good job in this book, with the goal of "adding nuance and gravitas to his legacy" they have definitely succeeded. The touch of David Ritz is all over this book, his biographies with musical artists are always fast paced with an informative feel, and this book is equal to other Ritz publications. Tavis is the guiding force behind the book and proba ...more
An eye-opening behind the scenes look at the travails, struggles and failures of Martin Luther King's final year. Given the hagiographic tone of most popular treatments of King, complete with the sanctification of his January 15th birthday, few remember that towards the end of his career, King's legacy was far from assured. Accused of being a communist and traitor by the FBI, and of being a sellout and an Uncle Tom by the newly militant Black Power movement; his fervent, outspoken critique of th ...more
John Kaufmann
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Excellent book about Martin Luther King Jr.'s last year, borderline 5-stars. I could hardly put it down, and couldn't wait to get back to it. What makes this book stand out is it's focus on King's internal state of mind during this period - the doubts and struggles he had with the changing civil rights environment, the criticism of his tactics, and the factioning of his own group, the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). It covers his coming out against the war in Vietnam (and hence LBJ ...more
Mike K
Jan 13, 2015 rated it liked it
I heard Smiley once say people know two things about MLK. One, he went to jail. And two, he had a dream. I very much count myself among that group and was looking forward to this book to learn a bit more. The book focuses on the last year of MLK's life and shows you a man most would not recognize as the person venerated in schools across the country. This is a portrait of a man struggling to retain his leadership within a movement with growing internal struggles. He is beset by depressive moods ...more
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: law-injustice
This is an interesting story and the focus of the last year of Dr. King's life is a unique focus and worth examining. I like how the author lined up the firestorm of activity during this period of time and provides insights into Dr. King's involvement including conversations with allies and foes. The book presents an unvarnished view of the disagreements inside the various factions of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-late '60's, how Dr. King was affected by these disagreements, and what he t ...more
Dec 13, 2016 added it
A biography written as an autobiography in the third person, and in the historical present. Though at first slightly annoying, I ended up really liking the way Smiley says that Doc "feels" or "thinks" so-and-so. Seems like it was sometimes off-putting to others, but for me, it seemed more like a kind of cool, new experimental form of critical analysis, or critical biography, or analytical biography. It may not be entirely the real story, but it is a version of the real story that we wouldn't get ...more
Mobeme53 Branson
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was a sincere effort to explain the events of the last year of MLK's life. I am sure that it was well researched and the historical perspective was not one that I had really understood. I was 11 when he was killed and didn't realize that the movement he had founded was almost terminal by the time of his assassination. What I did not like was his constant references to how King felt and thought. I don't have a problem with hyperbole when it is presented as such; however, this was represented ...more
Carol Storm
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A powerful and moving look at the man behind the legend, this short but eventful book covers the last year in the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of the revelations are shocking. It's difficult to read at times because it seems as if just about everyone turned against Dr. King in his final year. Not only the young black radicals, but many of his long time friends and older black leaders told him that he was no longer relevant, that his message had failed, that he needed to step back and disap
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a good meditation leading up to the Dr. King holiday - it filled in many knowledge gaps, focusing only on Dr. King's last year when he took his very unpopular anti-war stance and as his popularity was waning among Black Americans (largely in favor of more militant reactions). From what I knew from past history courses I admired Dr. King of course, but had some doubts as to his beliefs and practices regarding women. I would say that this book is unflinchingly honest (even as that has bec ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I take a long time to get through books (and movies) about Black history. (I’ve been watching the movie "Lincoln" for 30 days and have only gotten through 44 minutes of the 2 and a half hour movie.) I was expecting Death of a King to read like the "Killing" books by Bill O’Reilly, who writes history like a thriller but has stayed away from the topic of King, for whatever reason. But Death is a typical historical account with no creativity. While I breeze through the Killing books in days. The dr ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
From page 133: Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed (10 December 1967)...speaks for now. Indeed a few years ago a young man said these words to myself, my sister and my mother "Nothing has changed." He lives here in Canada, his skin is black and it is the 21st century. This book mirrors so much of what is happening right now in the U.S. but this time the slogans are: Black Lives Matter. This time there is no Martin Luther King, no Stokely Carmicheal and Harry Belafonte and Jesse Jacks ...more
Apr 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's astounding that the words spoken by Dr. King 50 years ago describe the problems affecting our society today.
Aug 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Goodness that was depressing. At the end I was almost glad when MLK was assassinated. At least he was finally free from the FBI wiretaps & smear campaigns, his closest friends hamstringing his efforts while riding his coattails, and all the doubt and naysaying from most (most!) of the country.

Amazing that he could put up with all that garbage and not quit. Whereas I'm ready to turn my back on the world and become a hermit after a recent difficult eBay transaction. Damn.

OK here's the resoluti
Mark Copithorne
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It makes me chuckle that the best person this country ever produced still had to sneak around to smoke his Salems.

This book reviews the last year of Martin's life from April 4, '67 when he denounced the Vietnam War in the Riverside Church and called America the greatest purveyor of violence in the world to April 4, '68 when he was shot at the Lorraine Motel. In this year he was unpopular not just with the racists who hated him and the liberal establishment that thought he had lost his way, but a
Chris Dean
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very good book. I was hooked in the introduction when Smiley writes "he is a man whose true character has been misinterpreted, ignored or forgotten....his martyrdom has undermined his message."

Indeed this book gave me a new understanding and appreciation of what King was saying and doing, primarily during the last year of his life.

In the second half of the 20th century, few voices were more important and his focus on God and how we should treat one another is something that is sorely missed toda
Matt Lowy
May 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Smiley's reverence for Dr. King shines through his writing and I am confident that Dr. King would be very proud of his work. For someone who was born in the last year of the Carter administration, I was very naive on how the country and the African American community stopped believing in Dr. King in his last year alive.

As young as was at his death (39 years old ), his accomplishments, focus, dedication and discipline are so very admirable. This book is a perspective booster and will put some
Jim Guess
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. It should be valued for its contribution to History and for its relevance today. Dr. King was a great American, a great preacher of the Gospel, a great dreamer, and a tireless worker. Thank you Mr. Smiley for telling such an important story and for telling it so well.
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed learning more about MLK, but realized that I don't know anything about the supposed revisionist version of MLKs final year & how this is different. I appreciated learning more about the civil rights movement and the issues close to MLK's heart.
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Solid synthesis of primary sources, but very much a straight narrative instead of analysis.
Bryan Craig
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
This is a fascinating read as MLK is challenged by other black leaders in his last year of life. A must read to get a fuller picture of MLK.
Anita Dawson
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
What an insight to King's final days. Great read and I recommend it to everyone...
Luke Johnson
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A somewhat short book by Tavis Smiley detailing the last year of Martin Luther King Jr's life. In the opening, Smiley tells the reader he is writing the book to address what he feels is a mis-characterization of Dr King (or as Smiley calls him throughout the book, Doc). Smiley is of the opinion Dr King has become this white-washed, "idealized dreamer" I belief he calls the public's perspective, and decides instead to give readers a true account of the man. Set several years after his "I Have A ...more
Nate C.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Earlier this year on Martin Luther King Day, some uninformed person or another - Joe Walsh, I believe - tweeted that if MLK were still alive today, he would lead an All Lives Matter rally.

Just 10 or so days ago, some other similarly misguided individual responded to a tweet from Bernice King - MLK's daughter - about the man himself. Bernice spoke of the 3-pronged approach to defeating racism that Smiley's book discusses - combatting racism, poverty and the military - and Lucian Wintrich reached
Marcus Nelson
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Chronicling the last 365 days of this great leader's life, Mr. Smiley paints a portrait of a tired but committed man.  You journey alongside Dr. King as he struggles to keep the good fight - bombarded by the U.S. govt., his own allies, the commitment to non-violence, The Black Panther Party and a desire that enough isn't getting done.  

Tavis humanizes Dr. King.  An iconic figure lionized, it's warming to understand that he was a man that had needs, fears, concerns and desires.  He knew his life
Timothy Neesam
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Death of a King covers the last year of Dr. Martin Luther King's life. King's message of civil rights through non-violent protest was starting to include protest against the Vietnam War, straining his relationship with President Johnson. King was dismissed by militants who thought him too conservative and the middle class who thought King was diluting his civil rights message. The press had begun to questions his efforts. His exhortations against poverty and economic exploitation led him to Memp ...more
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Tavis Smiley is a talk show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist. Smiley grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. After attending Indiana University, he worked during the late 1980s as an aide to Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles. Smiley became a radio commentator in 1991, and starting in 1996 he hosted the talk show BET Talk (later renamed BET Tonight) on BET. Con ...more
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” 3 likes
“I refuse to despair in this moment. I refuse to allow myself to fall into the dark chambers of pessimism, because I think in any social revolution the one thing that keeps it going is hope, and when hope dies somehow the revolution degenerates into a kind of nihilistic philosophy which says you must engage in disruption for disruption’s sake.… I believe that the forces of goodwill, white and black, in this country can work together to bring about a resolution.… We have the resources to do it.…” 2 likes
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