Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch is known for a lot of things, but brevity is not one of them. The nation’s authority on the turbulent 1960s, Branch wrote a three-book series—America in the King Years—that captured his 24 years of research in a definitive narrative history of the Civil Rights era.
If you don’t have time to read the 2,306 pages that comprise the trilogy, here’s some really good news. This month, Branch released The King Years, a comparatively slender volume intended to make this history more accessible to students and casual readers, without dumbing down the content.
In 190 pages (less than 10 percent of the original trilogy, he points out), Branch distills the Civil Rights Movement into 18 pivotal moments that occurred between 1954-68. From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first public address to the March on Washington, these historical turning points are delivered in utterly approachable chapters that average about 10 pages.
“For nearly twenty-five years…teachers have pressed upon me their need for more accessible ways to immerse students in stories of authentic detail and import,” Branch says. “Against my published habits, which are hardly succinct, the goal here is to accommodate them and others by careful choice.”
As we approach the 50th anniversary of some of the most important events in the Civil Rights Movement, many books on the topic will be raining upon the shelves. If you wish to brush up on the topic, but have time to read only one book, consider this one.