More on Jonathan Eig’s “King: A Life”

"King: A Life" book cover and headshot of author Jonathan Eig

Author Jonathan Eig will talk about his book as our special guest during our MLK Shabbat@WHC service, Friday, January 12, 6:00 pm at Temple and via livestream.

About the Book

King: A Life is “the first major biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in over a generation” (in the words of Peniel Joseph), and the first new book from Jonathan Eig since his award-winning biography of Muhammad Ali was published to much acclaim in 2017. Page-turning, deeply researched, and expertly crafted, Eig’s book is built on hundreds of original interviews and is the first biography of King to draw on important new sources — including the thousands of FBI documents that have been released in recent years; audiotapes recorded by Coretta King after her husband’s death; an unpublished memoir written by King’s father; and thousands of pages of materials that belonged to L. D. Reddick, who served as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s official historian. King: A Life is an authoritative, insightful, and timely new look at Martin Luther King’s life and legacy, destined to become an essential King biography for the next generation.

King: A Life brings to light several new and noteworthy details about King’s life, his faith, and his relationships—including, among other things:

  • New information about the FBI’s surveillance operation against King, and how it impacted his relationship with President Johnson at a critical moment for the civil rights movement.
  • New facts related to the King family’s history come from a previously unknown autobiography by King’s father.
  • The discovery that Playboy magazine misquoted King’s comments about Malcolm X forever changed the historical view of the relationship between the two men. (Eig found the unedited transcript of this interview, and we now know that what King said was not nearly as negative as the published version.)
  • Proof that Mahalia Jackson did not prompt King to launch into the “I Have a Dream” portion of his March on Washington speech, as has frequently been told.
  • A more detailed portrait of King’s relationships with the closest companions in his life: his wife, Coretta; Ralph Abernathy; and Dorothy Cotton.

What Others are Saying About King: A Life

King: A Life might be described as a deeply reported psychobiography . . . infused with the narrative energy of a thriller . . . Eig does a particularly nuanced job of conjuring up the mind-set of Coretta Scott King in the years before she emerged as a forceful activist in her own right . . . The most compelling account of King’s life in a generation.”
— Mark Whitaker, The Washington Post

“A sober and intimate portrait of King’s short life, and one that can’t help but be admiring, given how much King accomplished, and how quickly he did so . . . Eig captures the ferocity of the forces that opposed King.”
— Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

“Eig has pulled off a kind of miracle. Here is the King we know, think we know and ought to know.”
Ken Burns

About the Author

Jonathan Eig is the bestselling author of Ali: A Life, winner of a 2018 PEN America Literary Award and a finalist for the Mark Lynton History Prize. He also served as a senior consulting producer for the PBS series Muhammad Ali. His first book, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, won the Casey Award. Eig’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have been listed among the best of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Chicago with his wife and children.