1. The King trilogy, by Taylor Branch
Branch’s Pulitzer-prize winning trilogy consists of “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963” (Simon and Schuster, 1088 pp.), “Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65” (Simon and Schuster, 768 pp.), and “At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68″ (Simon and Schuster, 1056 pp.). Readers agree that this all-encompassing body of work isn’t just a biography of a great man, but a portrait of America.
From The Head Butler:
Thick books. They'd better be great, because they sure are heavy. “The Power Broker,” for example, the Robert Caro biography of New York City potentate Robert Moses. A brick of a book, but when Butler sat down to read it, he raced through it as if it were a thriller. And, ever after, Butler remembers the book as if it were an experience. Could you have this kind of experience reading about Martin Luther King? After all, everyone knows the King story in outline. Who hasn't heard the “I have a dream” speech? Or seen King in Alabama, marching proudly to jail? Old story, to be sure, but when you hear it told day by day, as Taylor Branch does, it seems new — an epic life unfolding in front of your eyes. Branch traces King's education, showing how teachers and writers shaped his thought. He introduces us to the men and women who became King's colleagues and takes the time to make them as real as King. And then, of course, he moves into the set pieces: the Freedom Rides, Birmingham, jail. Branch, as a writer, is under King's spell; his prose has a cadence you don't often see in biographies, even in Pulitzer Prize winners like “Parting the Waters.”