A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination
Clay Risen. John Wiley & Sons, $25.95 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-470-17710-5
Writer and editor Risen accounts for the lead-up to Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and the waves of violence that swept the nation in its wake. Risen's work is eye-opening, emphasizing cagey analysis as well as a recreation of the atmosphere and events following King's brutal slaying. Unquestionably important, Risen's detailed narrative documents each riot individually, offering both statistics and accounts from witnesses and participants in the rioting, looting, and arson. Risen also documents President Johnson's personal struggle to maintain order in a wounded country that increasingly disapproved of him, and speeches made by Robert Kennedy and Stokely Carmichael which are believed to have quelled (at least temporarily) the violence. Perhaps more important than his acute historical knowledge is Risen's perspective on the causes of each riot and the emotional toll they took on the American public, which he correlates directly to subsequent loss of support for the civil rights movement. Debut author Risen, formerly of The New Republic and currently founding manager of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, has crafted a crucial addition to civil rights history, sure to absorb anyone interested in the times, the movement or MLK Jr. 16 b&w photos.
Reviewed on: 01/12/2009