“Truth requires a maximum effort to see through the eyes of strangers, foreigners and enemies.”
Over the course of his storied career, author and historian Taylor Branch has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Humanities Medal.
His landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years, has been compared with other epic histories such as Shelby Foote’s The Civil War and Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. The King-era trilogy required more than twenty-four years of intensive research as Branch sought to illuminate not only the life of the man, but also the times in which he lived. Writing in The News & Observer, Timothy B. Tyson writes, “Taylor Branch has become the most important narrator of America’s democratic aspirations. . . . a profound act of citizenship, scholarship, and storytelling as he brings those years to life and lets them speak their truth for the ages.”
The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 was hailed in Time as a “major accomplishment in biography as social history” and as “a paradigm of the new American history at its best” by Newsweek’s Jim Miller. It was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Christopher Award.
Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Of Pillar of Fire, a Sojourners contributor commented that “the drama of the times comes through in gripping fashion.” Anthony Lewis, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called At Canaan’s Edge “A thrilling book, marvelous in both its breadth and its detail. There is drama in every paragraph.”
Branch’s most recent book returns to civil rights history. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement presents eighteen key episodes across the full span of the era, selected and linked by language from the trilogy, with new introductions for each of the chapters. The result is a compact, 190-page primer for readers interested in this transformative period of American history. “You come away from this trim digest inspired and enlightened,” wrote Gene Seymour in American History. Branch offers an on-line seminar from the University of Baltimore built around The King Years and other texts.
Far more personal than Branch’s previous books, The Clinton Tapes: Conversations with a President, 1993 – 2001 was the result of an unprecedented eight-year project to gather a sitting president’s comprehensive oral history on tape. New York Times Book Review contributor Joe Klein called it an “odd, revealing and often delightful book.”
In the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, Branch published an influential cover story entitled “The Shame of College Sports,” which author and NPR commentator Frank Deford said “may well be the most important article ever written about college sports.” The article touched off continuing national debate. Byliner.com, a pioneer e-book publisher, issued an expanded version of the article as a digital book and on-demand paperback, The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA.
Aside from writing, Taylor Branch speaks before a variety of audiences—colleges, high schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, political and professional groups. He has discussed doctrines of nonviolence with prisoners at San Quentin as well as officers at the National War College. He has presented seminars on civil rights at Oxford University and in sixth-grade classrooms. His 2008 address at the National Cathedral marked the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s last Sunday sermon from that pulpit. In 2009, he gave the Theodore H. White Lecture on the Press and Politics at Harvard.
Branch began his career in 1970 as a staff journalist for The Washington Monthly, Harper’s, and Esquire. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from ten colleges and universities. Other citations include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and the National Humanities Medal in 1999.
For more information on Taylor Branch, please visit www.taylorbranch.com.