It is probably trite to comment about how Martin Luther King Jr is commonly sanitized and made safe. Books like Radical King were designed to break him out of the confines of his dream. Books like Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought are trying to make King useful for our current time by looking at him more holistically and comparing him to Bonhoeffer and others to make him more intelligible. But it is still helpful to read King directly.
The Radical King reprinted a whole chapter from Where Do We Go From Here, which I had previously read. And there is an enormous number of quotes here that are commonly shared. But there is much here that also is not widely shared. King had a unique vision. He was anti-war, radically anti-violence, for massive social changes, not just around race, economics, and social cohesion. His radicalness was not despite his faith and prior experience but because of it. He became more radical not because of his earlier successes but because of what many perceived as a massive success he saw as scratching the surface.
It is not that the Birmingham bus boycott, the Selma marches, or the March on Washington were unimportant; those brought about the ability for people to have integrated transportation, voting rights, and national attention on segregation. But they did not end the cultural belief in the superiority of white skin and culture. They did not solve the problems of massive poverty and inequality. They did not address the issues of empire and colonialism.
Where Do We Go From Here is worth reading because King is worth taking seriously. But so much of his critique is both radical and now assumed. You can see many places where others have developed some of these ideas. And areas where his insights have been abandoned. King was not a bad writer, but he was an incredible speaker. This and his other books had assistance in the writing and editing. I do not know how much, but I know from the biographies that I read about King, that he was so busy that he missed many deadlines, and the assistance was part of what allowed this book and his other books to be finished.
The audiobook was fine, but again it wasn’t his voice. And for someone who is known primarily for his speaking, the loss of his voice I think, is a detriment. This audiobook makes me wonder how long it will be until we have computerized versions of his voice that can narrate his own book based on other recordings. After audiobooks of Where Do We Go From Here and The Radical King, I think I will read any future work by King in print, not on audiobook. When I read in print, his voice is in my head. When I listen to audio, I can’t get his voice correctly in my head.