• Let the Trumpet Sound

  • A Life of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • By: Stephen B. Oates
  • Narrated by: Cary Hite
  • Length: 22 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (62 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"The most comprehensive, the most thoroughly researched and documented, the most scholarly of the biographies of Martin Luther King Jr." (Henry Steele Commanger, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"Drawing on interviews with those who knew King, previously unutilized material at Presidential libraries, and the holdings of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, Mr. Oates has written the most comprehensive account of King's life yet published.... He displays a remarkable understanding of King's individual role in the civil rights movement.... Oates' biography helps us appreciate how sorely King is missed." (Eric Foner, New York Times)

By the acclaimed biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Nat Turner, and John Brown, Stephen B. Oates' prizewinning Let the Trumpet Sound is the definitive one-volume life of Martin Luther King Jr. This brilliant examination of the great civil rights icon and the movement he led provides a lasting portrait of a man whose dream shaped American history.

©1982, 1994 Stephen B. Oates (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

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Clear and insightful

not only did I learn about Kings life, but the book gave me clarity about the civil rights movement. highly highly recommended for learners of American history.

2 people found this helpful

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Dated, but still worth reading.

I don't remember who suggested it, but someone, about four years ago, recommended Let the Trumpet Sounds as the best biography of Martin Luther King Jr. I picked up the Kindle edition back in early 2018 and just got around to listening to the audiobook, in part because it is free if you are an Audible member. Oates initially published this in 1982, roughly 15 years after MLK's death. Three years ago was the 50th anniversary of King's death.

Let the Trumpet Sound is my first full-length biography of King. It is not that I have not read about King. I have read two joint biographies of King and Malcolm X, including this one. I have read the autobiography of Coretta Scott King. I have read a narrow biography of just his seminary years. I have read his book Where do We Go From Here and collections of his writing and speeches. I have read a book about his social thought compared to Bonhoeffer and a book about Letter From a Birmingham Jail. And I read a book about the social impact his death had on the United States. And none of that includes books about general civil rights history or autobiographies, memoirs, or biographies of other civil rights figures.

But a single-volume biography of King still helps to orient the reader to the timeline and broad impact that his short 39 years had on the world. Oates is not writing a hagiography. King, while a great man, is not a perfect man here. He was able to inspire many, not the least of whom, his loyal staff. But he was not a perfect leader. There is a good discussion on several strategic missteps and areas where King pushed against the wishes of his staff and advisors. Some of those disagreements were likely good decisions, some bad. But no cultural-wide protest is going to be tactically or strategically perfect. Mistakes will be made.

I do wonder what aspects of this book have been called into question. Because as much as Oates spends a lot of time on how the FBI blatantly and illegally wiretapped and surveilled and tried to discredit King, it feels like some of the aspects of the reporting from the FBI were still given more credit than I am comfortable with. Hoover pledged to destroy King. And more than 50 years later, there are still documents that have not been released to the public yet.

I do wonder at how King could have had a more healthy life. Not just physically and emotionally, but with his kids and work. King was pushed to be all things, and he wanted to help everyone. There were few limits, so that he spent nearly 90 percent of his time on the road once the Montgomery campaign was completed. So much happened in the 13 years from the start of the Montgomery campaign until his death. Even at nearly 600 pages, I know many events were glossed over or skipped.

There is far more to the civil rights era than just Martin Luther King Jr. Books about unknown people, or characters that only get mentioned, are essential. And there are many more characters that were important, like Stokley Carmicheal and John Lewis or Rosa Parks. But we do still need to give attention to Martin Luther King Jr.

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The King of Love

This is the only bio of MLK that I’ve ever “read”, so I have nothing to compare it to but the info I’ve learned from listening to lectures, how King is portrayed in popular media, etc., and I have to say it was incredibly illuminating and incredibly beautiful. Also, as a bonus you’ll learn a lot about the history of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century.

We all know how it ends, but I was surprised that I was moved to tears when it got to that end, which one should be warned is grisly in detail. It made me think of Nina Simone’s song, “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”, and I just broke down and sobbed.

Still, that horrific end is not the legacy of MLK, but neither is his legacy in popular media reflective of the life he lived, or the depth of his political and spiritual ideology, or the struggle he was fighting for when he was violently ripped away from his mission. Reading this book gives you a good idea of who he was, and what he was fighting for, and you won’t get that from pop culture and pop media (or MSM, if you prefer).

Rev/Dr Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice. First, he fought the battle most obvious right in front of him, to end the racial caste system of the South, and the ghetto underclass in the North. As Vietnam became a bigger war for America, he fought for peace to end that war, and give self determination to the Vietnamese people. Eventually, he came to understand that to win the social justice struggles he fought for, he’d have to address all poor, working class people, to bridge the racial divide, and build a movement of solidarity across identity. That realization, and his subsequent actions to start a war against poverty and class repression sealed his fate, as it did for so many others who wanted to bridge the racial divides for class based struggles for justice.

He wasn’t the first, or the last, to be put down by those who would stop at nothing to defend the status quo hierarchy, but he was one of the greatest examples of a peaceful warrior for true justice and equality for his people and for all people. He was a true Christian, in the model of what Jesus of Nazareth asked of those who would follow him, yet despised by so many who claimed to also follow that same faith..

To close this overly long review, and speak personally as someone concerned with many of the same issues MLK was, for the racial and economic injustices that still exist and are worsening in various ways: the realization that THIS is what is at stake to really fight for true justice, to stand up for what you believe in the face of brutality, to sacrifice a “normal” life, and potentially to face death itself… well, it’s a harrowing and humbling thing to come to terms with. I only hope I have a fraction of the bravery and brilliance Dr Martin Luther King Jr had in the face of these injustices.

Truly, this book has made him an even greater hero of mine. I have no trouble saying he was one of the greatest persons to ever draw breath. 5/5 stars

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Chosen ... A True Patriot

This story is or should be a must read because it is undeniable history, a history that curses the USA, and with one that was chosen by God. The beginning of a blessing to all people, especially those of color, around the globe.
If the United States wasn't so warped and twisted this would be taught in school. Everything done in the dark will always come to light, and no bad deed, will go unpunished.

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Outstanding

this book was suggested to me by a friend and I was pleased to see that it was included in my subscription. The content was thorough and the reader was not only a reader but a performer. I learned a lot about our nation's difficult past and about the man who, through his faith in Christ, tried to do good.

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I Wept

I thought I knew a lot about Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement. I was mistaken. This book brought both to life for me. It shares a picture of a man who though human and flawed, desperately wanted to free his people, save his country, and serve Christ. I wept at how selfless and Christlike he was at times and I wish I could do the same. I wept at how cruel and indifferent white America was and can be to black Americans. And even though I knew what was coming, I wept when he was shot. I couldn't be more thankful for this book and him.