Book Review: Martin Luther King Jr. On Leadership

Martin Luther King Jr On Leadership CoverI am a student of history – I love it. I spent many evenings after dinner sitting in the living room watching the news with my father discussing historical events and the importance they had in developing the country as I know it today. There’s nothing more powerful than history. It’s a culmination of lessons-learned and inspirations that challenge us to be the very best person we can throughout our lives.

Donald T. Phillips’ Martin Luther King Jr. On Leadership is a perfect exploration of one of the most impactful Americans our country has known. Using the Civil Rights era as his canvas, Phillips expertly weaves a captivating and surprisingly personal tale on the leadership style of Reverence Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Usually the books I have read that have either concentrated on or featured Martin Luther only include the later years after he had developed his speaking style and had become the face of the Civil Rights Movement. Phillips provides a much more intimate view of Martin Luther. By including his years as a young man fresh out of Crozer Theological Seminary school Phillips brings forefront the hesitations and shortcomings Martin Luther experienced when he first entered the fray, while at the same time providing a comprehensive overview of the segregation laws and cultural bigotry many African Americans faced on a daily basis.

Phillips doesn’t try to downplay or hide Martin Luther’s fear and uncertainty. Often held as an almost transcendent figure, he portrays Martin Luther as a common man, allowing the reader to really connect and sympathize with him. I realized that I was meeting Martin Luther for the first time; not as Dr. King or the Reverend but as someone I could relate to. Moved by the nearly-insurmountable circumstances he faced and the strength demonstrated in the face of real hatred, ignorance, and physical danger, this book is a wonderful reminder that we would not have many of the rights and privileges we have today if it wasn’t for the conviction of this one man.

As to the writing style of the book, I really enjoyed how Phillips used Martin Luther’s own words, actions, and sermons to reference real events and the non-violent message that became the foundation of the movement. And just like the subject, the language is humble without pretense. This would be a perfect book for someone who might not have the best grasp of history and the Civil Rights era.

I wish I was given this book to read as a teenager. It teaches the important lesson of how good leadership, positive leadership, can truly effect change while telling the personal story of a man we revere and reference in everyday life. I challenge anyone curious about the motivations that drove Martin Luther to devote his life to the Civil Rights cause to pick up this book and settle in for the evening. Or as someone great once said:

“Remember that nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.