cover image King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Wil Haygood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24.95 (476pp) ISBN 978-0-395-44094-0

Boston Globe reporter Haygood ( Two on the River ) weaves together interviews and research to create a nuanced yet vivid narrative about the crusading Harlem congressman who served in the House for 24 years and whose controversial behavior and womanizing often overshadowed his crucial contribution to the War on Poverty. Haygood astutely traces how the light-skinned Powell (1908-1972), who tried to pass as white when a Colgate student, later embraced his blackness and demanded acceptance in the white world. Mixing New York and national political history with Powell's rise as a Baptist minister and politician, Haygood adds deft cameos of characters like Hattie Dodson, Powell's devoted secretary, and Hazel Scott, the jazz star whose wedding to the divorced congressman was ``the stuff of grand romance and intrigue.'' Expelled from Congress in 1966 for alleged misappropriations and an unpaid libel judgment, Powell, Haygood writes poignantly, was shunned by black leaders and, even after reinstatement by the Supreme Court, disparaged by many he had helped. Though less authoritative in assessing Powell's political milieu than Charles V. Hamilton's 1991 book, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma , this is a richer portrait of Powell the man. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Feb.)