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On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man - whose real name was James Earl Ray - drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace's racist presidential campaign.
On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.
With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey.
Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of Kings funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassins flight and the 65-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England - a massive manhunt ironically led by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.
Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life - an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By L. Lyter on 06-29-10
History Comes Alive
I remember the final tumultuous years of the 60's as a televised tableau of rioting and demonstrations capped by the horrific nightmare of back to back assassinations. Hampton Sides examines the people and motives behind the events. Be prepared for new perspectives on the familiar characters of the headlines. Martin Luther King can't give up his mistresses, LBJ can't fathom why his War on Poverty doesn't prevent a demonstration on his doorstep, and J. Edgar Hoover does the right thing in the end. The pathos of the widow's walk -Coretta Scott King, Jackie and Ethel Kennedy- is masterfully retold. I sympathized with Ralph Abernathy as he surveyed the muddy wreck that once was the Poor People's March and is forced to come to terms that he will never be the leader that MLK was. By far, however, the most complex character was James Earl Ray, the product of a dismally poor, dysfunctional family of many generation's duration, cunning yet clueless, and so unremarkable that most acquaintances describe him as ordinary, if they are able to remember him at all. Thousands of lawmen in five countries bring to a successful conclusion one of the most extensive and successful manhunts of the twentieth century. The re-telling of the story is fast paced enough to read like a thriller, yet detailed enough for fresh insight into the era. Hampton Side's narration is understated and well done. I highly recommend the book and the author to anyone with an interest in American history and especially to those too young to remember social upheaval of the 60's.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
By E. L. Robertson on 05-05-10
This book should have been written years ago. I am a pretty astute history buff and thought I knew this story... but, honestly, I was surprised at how little I knew. The authors pace was fantastic and he did a good job of narrating his own book... which is usually a disaster. I highly recommend.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Helen on 11-22-10
First came across this book when it was abridged on the radio. Having only caught one episode, it was enough to make me find the whole book. Extremely thorough and interesting account of the entire events and exceptionally well read by the author. Can't recommend it enough if you have any interest at all in the subject.