Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and anyone who followed the media coverage of that occasion understands all too well that the identity of the civil rights leader is fiercely contested. American pop culture idolizes King as an optimistic dreamer, conservative politicians depict him as a color-blind universalist, and leftist scholars paint him as an ethnocentric black prophet. And these are just three of many points of view.
Jonathan Rieder, a professor of sociology at Barnard College, has boldly entered this raging and race-conscious debate, and we should be grateful for his contribution. It is arguably the most creative book about King to date.