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Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65

(America in the King Years #2)

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  2,446 ratings  ·  135 reviews
From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch, the second part of his epic trilogy on the American Civil Rights Movement.

In the second volume of his three-part history, a monumental trilogy that began with Parting the Waters, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Taylor Branch portrays the Civil Rights Movement at its zenith, reco
Paperback, 768 pages
Published January 20th 1999 by Simon Schuster (first published February 2nd 1998)
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Clif Hostetler
Dec 29, 2014 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 encou
Mikey B.
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Volumes I and III were two of the best books I have ever read. But this one was annoying, because Branch spent hundreds of pages reviewing the background facts of the first volume I guess to get the reader up to speed in case they had not read the first volume. Who does that? What sane person is going to start a trilogy at volume II? Besides, the review was in such a shotgun fashion that I'm not even sure it would have been real useful or informative for a new reader. Anyway, once he got through ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The second volume of Taylor Branch's trilogy on America in the Martin Luther King years begins with a recap of the previous volume. In fact the first quarter of the book revisits 1954-1963 and the incredible events of those years. Normally such a lengthy recap of a previous book would be tedious but Branch manages to retell the story and yet do it in a fresh way, from different perspectives, that makes it come alive again.
Once he does bring us into the years 1963-1965, we have a fuller appreci
David B
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 fa
The Civil Rights movement profoundly affected American history and the nation’s race relations for a generation. Some of the big moments, like the March on Washington, are indelibly etched into popular imagination. But what was the movement like at its peak and what lessons does it hold for us today? In this second volume to his trilogy on the era, Mr. Branch catalogues the ins and outs of the movement at its peak.

This volume starts by retreading some ground from the last chapters in
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history, race
I spent 11 weeks reading Taylor Branch's second volume of a biography centered on Martin Luther King, Jr. Checking back in my reading log, I was surprised that it has been about four years since I read Volume I, Parting the Waters. During those years I read the first three volumes of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon B Johnson. These two biographical feats dovetail perfectly, especially in Pillar of Fire, because the two men became inextricably entwined in the history of mid-20th century America.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, america
This is fascinating. It’s unsurprising how little I know, considering I’ve never taken any kind of American history and this, even in abridged audiobook, is quite detailed. In particular, I learned a great deal about Malcolm X and I’d be interested to read more about him, if anyone has any book suggestions.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 boo
Jun 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 pe
Craig Werner
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 is currently reading it
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 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the second, in Branch's 3-part history of the Civil Rights movement, and it should be required reading for all students of U.S. History.
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
It took me a month to read this, not because it is long (although it is) but because I enjoyed spending time with this story and this group of people.

The first volume, Parting the Waters, ended in 1963 shortly after the assassination of JFK. Pillar of Fire thankfully starts with a recap of 1963 and runs until early March of 1965, shortly after the assassination of Malcolm X and with the stage set for Bloody Sunday in Selma.

Branch had his work cut out for him in this volume, as the s
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
2017 Reading Challenge - A book that's been on your TBR list for way too long

In reality, I didn't actually like this book, but I felt I had to give it two stars, because Branch did present a lot of details clearly gleaned from a vast amount of research.

This book overall is thoroughly problematic. While it seems that Branch believes that he is presenting a detailed accounting of history, he is also - like most authors and academics - bringing a heavy dose of his own bias.
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorites
“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 val
Mark Greenbaum
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
History presented in front of us is so neat. Slavery was a mortal wrong, indefensible. The civil rights movement's achievements were inevitable because their cause was just. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a hero of biblical proportions. These are textbook truths. What shines in these histories is that these truths were not true until they were; that is, the getting to that point was brutally hard, fought in the face of overwhelming public opinion and institutional power weighed against changing the ...more
In this second volume of the America in the King Years trilogy, Taylor Branch illuminates the character and contributions of King’s growing—and increasingly fractious—band of allies, while his close examination of federal documents and records affords insight into the roles played by presidents and power brokers in aiding or thwarting the activists in the South. Despite the historical sweep of the material and the monumental scale of the research he marshals, Branch’s hold on the reader’s attent ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, us-politics
I heard the abridged version of this series as an audiobook. That being said, this second version was easier to follow, more interesting and lively and action packed. I would have thought that thegislative thought process would've been a bigger part of the story. But it wasn't. Additionally, the assassination of Malcolm X was treated as a matter of fact sort of event, which is pretty mind blowing. Outside of that, the book goes into interesting detail about the day to day struggle of the Civil R ...more
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it, history-read
This second volume of the America in the King Years trilogy was filled with more details than I wanted so my interest level flagged from time to time and it took me about 6 months to read it. On the other hand, it is well written and I learned a lot. Many things that were said or written during those years could just as easily be said or written today. It is almost trite to say that our country’s story of racism and violence is far from over, and because I went through my adolescence and idealis ...more
Dan Martin
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Volume two of this trilogy of American history during the MLK, JR. years is a shining example of what must not be forgotten. It's an impressive feat of detailed and nuanced research, not to mention one of best well written accounts of that time period. Consequently, I was struck while reading this, how similar the children's marches of 1964 match the ferocity and outcry of the gun reform movement from the high school teenagers out of Parkland, Florida today. It is a telling reminder of how power ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this volume I was struck by the tooth and nail resistance by whites to hold people down by any means necessary. Having had time to plot resistance to the Civil Rights movement, they dug in. The abuse of power by lawmen and judges is incredible. It is discouraging to see how much of these tactics are alive and well 55 years later.

Branch's writing is at its best when the author is giving close details to stories. The over-arching narratives are good, but the telling of the individua
Sean Estelle
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Book two of this mammoth trilogy on the civil rights movement was just as good as the first. Beat-by-beat, Branch moves us through Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, the trials and tribulations of Malcolm X, and the Freedom Summer campaign, alongside so much more. Highly recommend if you have time for a deep deep dive into this period of American history!
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Taylor Branch 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 lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife, Chri ...more

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