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Powerful books recommended by Martin Luther King Jr

photo: Wikimedia
The leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement about the powerful books that shaped his personality
Buy on amazon “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau
- Martin Luther King Jr. in his autobiography
While some cynics label this seminal work as ‘a guy sitting by a pond thinking for two years’, many have found this essay of conscience a riveting exploration of government deriving its right to rule by the use of power rather than by either consent or by right. Many of a revolutionary mindset have taken to heart Thoreau’s suggestion that the United States government has become an unjust ruler by engaging in wars of aggression and the use of slavery, and that the way to an untroubled conscience is to avoid government’s inner workings.
Buy on amazon “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
- from an article on atlantablackstar.com
From the varied chapter titles (Slavery, the Social Compact, Law, Voting), it’s obvious that Rousseau is seeking to reform rather than appeal to the almighty and anarchical invidual found in a ‘state of nature’. Rather, Rousseau argues that it’s to everyone’s advantage if people allow for a certain amount of liberty to be exchanged for the sort of strength that is found in numbers that promote the common good. Laws must reflect the good of liberty and equality for all, while periodic assemblies will restrain the government’s thirst for complete domination; also, the state’s size ought to determine the application of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy.
Buy on amazon “Republic” by Plato
- from an article on atlantablackstar.com
This time, Socrates is not battling with those who wish to offer the hemlock cup. He's engaged in a dialogue with three other souls reaching toward and understanding of goodness, knowledge, and the balance of the ideal individual within the community. Justice, policy-making, and education are the underpinnings of a state in which its citizens' well-being are true priorities, while philosopher kings lead the charge toward harmony within structure. The argument for a three-part structure of society that mirrors the individual is particularly intriguing for students of metaphysical subjects
Buy on amazon “Politics” by Aristotle
- from an article on atlantablackstar.com
Man swims naturally in political dialogue like a fish in water, argues Aristotle. As the existence of the city takes precedence over individuals, therefore it is right for legal distinctions to exist between those who are slaves naturally (i.e. those who do not exercise reason) versus those who have the root of freedom lodged within. Also, common-law property and family members may lead to a sense of justified grievance, whereas the virtuous citizen's desire ought to be to promote the state's preservation, communal virtue and equality of rights and duties.
Buy on amazon Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

The point of view that all human activities lead up the mountain road to happiness is rather a modern view, but one that Aristotle shared with the 21st century – along with the necessity of deliberate choice worked out in consistent action. However, his definition of happiness as inextricably linked with virtue, balanced between lack and overabundance, seems more tied to an understanding of innate conscience than a temporary state of good or bad circumstances. Virtues and vices, along with subjects of impulse and coercion, all lead down the garden path to justice and that which is praiseworthy.
Buy on amazon “The City of God” by Augustine
- from an article on atlantablackstar.com
While the argument that sparked the book is now obsolete (i.e. that lack of pagan worship led to the fall of Rome via Alaric’s barbarian hordes), the issues are timeless. The responsibility of the crumble of civilization, retorts St. Augustine of Hippo, can be laid squarely at the feet of immoral Roman citizens who cut the foundation out from their own feet. The reason for any remaining remnant is the work of God, who has established His own kingdom ruled by one city (the spiritual Jerusalem) which stands in direct opposition to a second parasitic kingdom (the spiritual Babylon). Since Lucifer fell from heaven, these two powers have been and will be at odds until the sunset of time.
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