I don’t really know enough about the events involved or the Civil Rights movement to assess the accuracy of the book.
For some perspective on Frady’s take and themes it might be helpful to quote from Scott Malcomson in his New York Times Review. Malcomson wonders about the need for another volume on King but believe there will be some appeal for a volume like this one. But then expresses some doubt about Frady’s contribution:
There is some danger in this appeal, because although Frady’s book reads like a rather detached biography, it is really (like most of the volumes in the Penguin Lives series of which it is a part) an essay. Frady has a thesis: that King ”somehow felt, in his oldest moral workings, that he must continually experience sin to continuously know the soul-regenerating wonder of forgiveness and redemption.” ”It may not be too fanciful to suggest,” Frady continues, that King ”was driven to crucify himself over and over again on a cross of guilt with his secret licentiousness in order to renew his soul with the experience of yet another resurrection into grace and restoration to his high calling.”
Frady does not so much argue this guilt thesis as place its markers here and there through the narrative. Oddly, quietly, they support another theme of Frady’s story: that King was essentially a creature of circumstance, pressed into shape by events, often timid though also brave in a self-dramatizing way.
To that I would respond: fair enough, but that doesn’t prevent this from being an engaging and interesting read. And I think it is useful in that it is likely to prod readers to dig deeper and explore the larger opus surrounding King. I think most readers approach a series like Penguin Lives in this fashion.
So whether you are knowledgeable about the subject, or want to learn more, I recommend both this series and this book.
History is indeed messy, and prophets and heroes are rarely simple, but in the hands of skilled writers and thinkers this only makes the past more interesting. Or at least to me.