cover image The Radical King

The Radical King

Martin Luther King Jr. Edited and introduced by Cornel West. Beacon, $26.95 (31

This selection of King’s writings and speeches ably introduces historical neophytes to the great civil rights leader’s “radical” side, though readers may feel a disconnect between his empathetic words and the scathing introduction from West (Race Matters). The book does include some of King’s most famous writings, such as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” but also lesser-known passages dealing with his opposition to the Vietnam War and concern with American poverty outside as well as within the black community. Throughout, King’s skills as a preacher and rhetorician are amply in evidence, as is his profound empathy with others, even after a bombing at King’s home that almost killed his wife and child. West, perhaps President Obama’s most prominent African-American critic, uses the introduction to assert that “surely” King would not have wanted the first black U.S. president to serve up a “Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, and surveillance presidency with a vanishing black middle class, devastated black working class, and desperate black poor people clinging to fleeting symbols and empty rhetoric.” Not everyone will feel that accurately imagining King’s attitudes towards President Obama is as straightforward as West would have it; his use of academic terminology, meanwhile, might prove an impediment to the lay reader he is targeting. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis. [em](Jan.) [/em]