#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An intimate and revealing portrait of civil rights icon and longtime U.S. congressman John Lewis, linking his life to the painful quest for justice in America from the 1950s to the present—from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Soul of America
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND COSMOPOLITAN
John Lewis, who at age twenty-five marched in Selma, Alabama, and was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was a visionary and a man of faith. Drawing on decades of wide-ranging interviews with Lewis, Jon Meacham writes of how this great-grandson of a slave and son of an Alabama tenant farmer was inspired by the Bible and his teachers in nonviolence, Reverend James Lawson and Martin Luther King, Jr., to put his life on the line in the service of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” From an early age, Lewis learned that nonviolence was not only a tactic but a philosophy, a biblical imperative, and a transforming reality. At the age of four, Lewis, ambitious to become a minister, practiced by preaching to his family’s chickens. When his mother cooked one of the chickens, the boy refused to eat it—his first act, he wryly recalled, of nonviolent protest. Integral to Lewis’s commitment to bettering the nation was his faith in humanity and in God—and an unshakable belief in the power of hope.
Meacham calls Lewis “as important to the founding of a modern and multiethnic twentieth- and twenty-first-century America as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and Samuel Adams were to the initial creation of the Republic itself in the eighteenth century.” A believer in the injunction that one should love one's neighbor as oneself, Lewis was arguably a saint in our time, risking limb and life to bear witness for the powerless in the face of the powerful. In many ways he brought a still-evolving nation closer to realizing its ideals, and his story offers inspiration and illumination for Americans today who are working for social and political change.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
John Lewis was a civil-rights icon defined by his perseverance. The great-grandson of a slave, Lewis grew up in the Jim Crow South, surrounded by a loving, deeply religious family—and near-daily reminders that the color of his skin made him a target. In lyrical, often soaring prose, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jon Meacham traces his subject’s extraordinary life against the backdrop of the sometimes fractious modern civil-rights movement. He details the many trials Lewis faced, from near-fatal beatings by police to years of political stonewalling, that might have deterred a less determined activist. Despite experiencing firsthand the pervasiveness and evil of American racism, Lewis believed wholeheartedly that we could be better. This unshakable faith, distilled here into a kind of elegy, is Lewis’ ultimate legacy.
A profile in courage and faith under fire emerges from this vivid portrait of Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (1940 2020). Meacham (The Hope of Glory) focuses on Lewis's experiences during the late 1950s and '60s as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a leader in crucial civil rights actions. It's an epic story in Meacham's impassioned telling: arrested and beaten many times, Lewis was knocked unconscious by a white mob in Montgomery, Ala., during the Freedom Rides, and had his skull fractured during the 1965 Bloody Sunday march in Selma, where, "trapped between asphalt and his uniformed attackers, inhaling tear gas and reeling from the billy club blow to his head, felt everything dimming." Meacham also probes the nonviolent protest philosophy Lewis learned from Martin Luther King Jr. and others, exploring its Christian intellectual roots, its practical discipline training sessions featured mock racist attacks and Lewis's lonely adherence to nonviolence and integrationism after the SNCC gravitated to Black Power militance. Meacham sometimes goes overboard in his adulation, declaring Lewis a "saint" who "seemed to walk with Jesus Himself" and was "in the world, but not really of it." Still, this gripping work is deeply relevant to America's current turmoil over racial injustice.
Profound, moving, and sobering
Few books are a must read, and literally a page turner each and every page. This is one of them. Lewis was a lion, a true American hero. God Bless him, may his memory live so long as our republic stands and thereafter. We must open our arms, and unclench our fists. Well done, Jon Meacham.
I absolutely loved this book. It is so pertinent to what we are experiencing in the aftermath of the Trump presidency and how far we still have to go.
Great Book! Great Insight!
This was a marvelous telling of John Lewis’ story. The insights that Meachem provides is very powerful. Especially with the happenings on the today’s social and political landscapes. Job well done!