Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as Want to Read:
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Letter from Birmingham Jail

(Penguin Modern Classics #01)

4.56  ·  Rating details ·  2,174 ratings  ·  238 reviews
There is an alternate edition published under ISBN13: 9780062509550.

'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'

This landmark missive from one of the greatest activists in history calls for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against racism, and reflects on the healing power of love.

This edition also contains the sermon 'The Three Dimensions of a Com
Paperback, 54 pages
Published February 22nd 2018 by Penguin Classics (first published April 16th 1963)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Letter from Birmingham Jail, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Letter from Birmingham Jail

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.56  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,174 ratings  ·  238 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Letter from Birmingham Jail
Sean Barrs
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The fact that a man such as Martin Luther King spent time in prison demonstrates the fundamental wrongness that permeates humanity.

Laws are there to protect people, though which people are they protecting? MLK understood that the laws of society are not necessarily true laws, or what he saw as god’s laws, and he knew that they needed to be fought and changed for the betterment of mankind. His rhetoric is honest, compassionate and full of purpose.


King’s word were powerful and heroic. Despite th
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book has two parts: one is the one named on the cover, the other one is "The Three Dimensions Of A Complete Life". The first focuses on defending direct, non-violent resistance of racism, written on the margins of a newspaper in 1963; the other is a sermon delivered in Chicago, April 1967, a recording that is cut short by some interruption, but that point is well towards the end, so not much was left to say in it anyway.

On the first part: where MLK talks of underlying reasons for demonstrat
Alice Lippart
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Such an important book and an absolute must-read!
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Letter from Birmingham Jail was a text I’d studied many a time in class and referred to. But I’d never read it in completion and I’m glad I did. Basically, it shows me that MLK has mastered the art of responding to criticism. His points are thought out, precise and well developed. I couldn’t, and didn’t, disagree with a single word written. But it’s in the second part of this little classic that I was blown away.

The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life is one of the few essays I would tell EV
André Oliveira
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
So inspiring!
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, classics
"There are those who become so involved in looking at the man-made lights of the city that they unconsciously forget to rise up and look at that great cosmic light and think about it - that gets up in the eastern horizon every morning and moves across the sky with a kind of symphony of motion and paints it technicolor across the blue - a light that man can never make."

Martin Luther King Jr. truly has a way with words. At times, the second essay in this little collection felt a bit preachy in reg
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What else can be said about this stirring, poignant, provocative letter, written in the margins of a newspaper at the height of America's most successful mass movement for equality? Reading it aloud to my children this past MLK Day, I was struck by how many lines have become immortalized:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

The section in whi
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received the wonderful boxed collection of the new Penguin Moderns series for my birthday, and have decided to read and review them in order. The first book in the collection, and therefore my first review, is black rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail. The blurb states that this 'landmark missive from one of the greatest activists in history calls for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against racism, and reflects on the healing power of love.' Despite ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: penguin-modern
The first half of this is a compelling piece of writing of a man looking for equality and the right way to achieve those goals.

Very powerful writing.

The backup feature, "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" is dull and pulled only a small amount of emotional involevment. A stark contrast to the title piece.
Here I am, well over fifty years after his time, and I felt goosebumps just by reading MLK's words. Even after so much hate thrown upon him, he showed only love. Fifty years after he's gone, his legacy shone on. Great man.

I'm overjoyed I chose this book to start the year 2019.

Complete review:
Nabilah Firdaus
One of the best pieces of literature written in American history that represents the civil rights movement. It's amazing how much restraint, hope and resolve these people had. A must read for everyone.

Rest in peace, Martin Luther King.
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.[...] For years now I have heard the word "Wait!"[...] This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Letter from Birmingham Jail is a powerful defence of nonviolent resistance.
I would highly recommend Leynes' review of a joint edition of Letter from Birming
Harry Collier IV
So I bought the Penguin Modern Collection last year excited to read a small sample of different writers and thus discover some amazing talent that I might have otherwise overlooked and then I promptly failed to read a single book in the collection.
Last night I made a spur-of-the-moment resolution to read one a day for the next fifty days.
This morning I pulled out the first book (why not go in order I told myself) and found this one.
To be quite honest, this is not a book I was looking forward to
Jul 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: i-own, short-stories
It is sad how what Martin Luther King Jr fought for years ago is still what people are fighting for today.

“Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Full review to follow!
Frank-Intergalactic Bookdragon
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: classics, nonfiction
"the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?"

I'm going try to keep this review short because it's a short book (or novella?) I also think you should just do yourself a favor and read this, it shouldn't take too long unless like me you annotate it. (I read this for school and
*Penguin Modern's edition of this book contains 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' as well as 'The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life'*

'𝗟𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝗕𝗶𝗿𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗴𝗵𝗮𝗺 𝗝𝗮𝗶𝗹' (𝗳𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝟯𝟬 𝗽𝗮𝗴𝗲𝘀):

"𝐍𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐈 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐬𝐨 𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐚 𝐥𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫. 𝐈'𝐦 𝐚𝐟𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐝 𝐢𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐦𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐭𝐨𝐨 𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞. 𝐈 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐭 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐦𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐟 𝐈 𝐡𝐚𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐚 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐝𝐞𝐬𝐤, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐞𝐥𝐬𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐡𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐧𝐚𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐰 𝐣𝐚𝐢𝐥 𝐜𝐞𝐥𝐥, 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐥𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬, 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐤 𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The short book consists of 2 parts, the first is the letter as the title suggests, a letter written by MLK jr while he was held in Birmingham jail for his protest activities. It is a really erudite piece of literary work wherein he addresses the clergyman who had criticised the methods employed by him and other protestors. He puts across his points beautifully and succinctly, does not lose his composure despite being in a position of obvious disadvantage and with his back against the wall, liter ...more
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
The titular text is brilliant. Written to those who opposed King's non-violent protests, King defends his actions and justifies their causes brilliantly. He does oppose the idea of violent protest on Christian grounds, which I myself do not agree with but his point is well made and certainly defensible.

The other text in this work is a speech on how to live a complete life. This work blends Aristotelian ideas of friendship and the relation of the self with Christian theology. I did not find this
Salam Almahi
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read it. That's all I'm going to say. ...more
ruby healy
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I know such a phrase get's thrown about by critics to the point where it now feels like a shallow and benign compliment, but I don't think I could write an honest review of Dr.King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" without admitting that I find this book to be an absolute must-read; that every person on this earth has to buy and read the words that Dr. King wrote in the margins of a newspaper while wrongly imprisoned 45 years ago over and over again, until they take his ideas to heart. The book it ...more
Kier Scrivener
"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

This was incredible. I don't have words, it had no error.

Let him speak for himself:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"

"You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into
Atiqah Ghazali
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Letter from Birmingham Jail
by Martin Luther King, Jr
Published by Penguin Classics
Goodread's Rating: 4.53/5
My Rating: 5/5

"Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "Thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.

Just as Soc
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."

It's not until you read a really eloquent author that you're properly reminded of how much the mind and soul yearns for well-crafted arguments and poetic writing that feeds them both e
Andreia Marques
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you can't be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley
The little scrub in the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.
If you can't be a highway just be a trail
If you can't be the sun be a star;
It isn't by size that you win it fail
Be the best if whatever you are.
Dec 06, 2020 added it
Happy to have read such an important piece of writing. Comprehensive, structured and passionate. It is confronting to read how many things are still relevant in this book, which is all the more reason for people to pick it up.
Ellie Brown
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading this letter was both haunting and moving at the same time. It's disturbing to be reading the words, possibly intended to be private, of an assassinated man. Yet, these words were from a time when civil war was ripe and black people were segregated - much different to the culture I see around myself today. You transport back in time, to witness MLK sat in his cell writing this letter, and the political chaos surrounding him.

What amazed me was the eloquence and intelligence of this man, wh
Sandra (folded.between.pages.of.books)
very beautiful and powerful writing
Georgina N
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

We must come to see ,with one of our distinguished jurists ,that "justice too long delayed is justice denied".

"There are two types of laws.Just and unjust."

"Segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."

"Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust on its application ."

One of the books that should be taught at schools.
A must read. Especially now with the election.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Television Was a Baby Crawling Toward That Deathchamber
  • The Breakthrough
  • Notes on Nationalism
  • Dark Days
  • Africa's Tarnished Name
  • The Custard Heart
  • Three Japanese Short Stories
  • Food
  • The Black Ball
  • The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House
  • The Veiled Woman
  • The Great Hunger
  • Fame
  • The Vigilante
  • Create Dangerously
  • The Problem That Has No Name
  • The Three Electroknights
  • The Duke in His Domain
See similar books…
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His ef ...more

Other books in the series

Penguin Modern Classics (1 - 10 of 13 books)
  • Television Was a Baby Crawling Toward That Deathchamber
  • The Breakthrough
  • The Custard Heart
  • Three Japanese Short Stories
  • The Veiled Woman
  • Notes on Nationalism
  • Food
  • The Three Electroknights
  • The Great Hunger
  • The Legend of the Sleepers

Related Articles

    Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times, is the author of the newly...
69 likes · 14 comments
“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” 4 likes
“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” 3 likes
More quotes…