Taylor Branch is a native of Atlanta, where he confesses to growing up somewhat unaware at first of the civil rights revolution that was beginning to sweep the South and then the rest of the nation. He told one interviewer that at age 16, he was a roving-eyed, apolitical Southerner interested in sports and chasing girls. But that was before he saw the dogs and the fire hoses turned against demonstrators in Birmingham, an event that he says changed his life.
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He became interested in history and politics and majored in American history at the University of North Carolina. He protested against the Vietnam War, he campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and then he went on to Princeton as a graduate student in politics and religion and philosophy. While there, he spent a summer in a voter registration project in Georgia. His diary that summer became an article in the Washington Monthly—a small and very fine magazine that exposes the foibles of the federal government and other institutions, and where Taylor still is a contributing editor.
This launched his career as a journalist and writer, and later he wrote for both Harper’s and Esquire magazines. Prior to beginning his work on "Parting the Waters," Taylor had written several other books—a novel, "The Empire Blues"; "Blowing the Whistle," with Charlie Peters, the editor of Washington Monthly. He co-authored "Second Wind" with basketball great, Bill Russell, and he was the ghost writer behind John Dean’s account of the Watergate scandal—the book called "Blind Ambition."
Then came his monumental effort—the six years that it took him to research and write "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years"—a book that is both a biography of Martin Luther King and a history of the civil rights movement in the United States. It’s a book that’s big—more than 1,000 pages—but as readable as it is big. "Parting the Waters," which was published in 1988, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for History.
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