Jonathan Eig Profile Photo

Jonathan Eig

Keynote Speaker

Journalist and Biographer

Ken Burns calls Jonathan Eig one of America’s master storytellers. With best-selling books on Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, and Lou Gehrig, he captures the lives of American heroes and makes them come to life in sometimes startling ways. Eig’s stories of dogged research and amusing encounters help listeners relate to the biographer’s journey.

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Jonathan Eig Profile Photo

Jonathan Eig is the bestselling author of six books, including his most recent King: A Life, which The New York Times hailed as a “monumental” new biography of Martin Luther King Jr.

Four of his six books have been New York Times best sellers. He served as consulting producer for the PBS series “Muhammad Ali,” which was directed by Ken BurnsEsquire magazine named Ali: A Life one of the 25 greatest biographies of all time. Joyce Carol Oates called it “an epic of a biography” that “reads like a novel.”

Jonathan began his writing career at age 16, working for his hometown newspaper, The Rockland County (N.Y.) He’s gone on to write for many of the nation’s most prominent publications. He has earned a reputation for taking iconic figures and making them seem new, based on hundreds of interviews and dogged research that routinely uncovers troves of new archival material.

He’s appeared on the Today Show, NPR’s Fresh Air, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But his greatest claim to fame, according to his parents, is that his name once appeared in a Jeopardy question (which was solved correctly for $200).

Featured Videos

Jonathan Eig Profile Photo
Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig on the Punch of Telling Muhammad Ali’s Story

Jonathan Eig Profile Photo
Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig on Ali’s Rebellion

Jonathan Eig’s Speech Topics

  • Beyond The Dream: Embracing A More Complicated Martin Luther King Jr.

    In hallowing Martin Luther King Jr., we have hollowed him. We have replaced his radical vision for justice with a romantic image of a man who stands for little more than love and peace. For the past seven years, Jonathan Eig has traveled across the country, meeting the people who knew King personally, recording their stories, and learning about the real MLK — the complicated one, the flawed one, the radical one, the one we really need in today’s bitter, divided world.

    If we listen to the real King, he can still teach us:

    • Yes, it’s possible to be radical and win the support of the mainstream and the political establishment.
    • A flawed man can live his life by high moral standards and devote himself to the common good.
    • It is possible to engage in dialogue (and even love) our enemies.
    • Income inequality is not a requirement of capitalism.

    Though we live in an age of cynicism and division, King believed we would get to the Promised Land. If we listen to his words, if we embrace his message, and if we accept his contradictions, we might get there yet.

  • A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew Walk into a Bar

    How did a Jewish journalist end up writing the definitive biographies of America’s most famous Muslim (Muhammad Ali) and its most famous Christian (Martin Luther King Jr.)? Jonathan describes how Ali and King helped shape his own spiritual and religious journey.

    What does it mean to believe? How do you apply your religious beliefs in the secular world? And what does one do when the religious and secular worlds conflict? What moral lessons can we all learn from the religious journeys of Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King?

  • How I Learned to Love Sports and History (In That Order)

    Throughout American history, sporting events have helped unify and shape the nation. But we often overlook the impact of sports on our comprehension of American history.

    In this personal reflection, Jonathan Eig describes how his obsession with sports led to his fascination with history, and how a kid who once wanted only to play center field for the Yankees became one of the nation’s leading writers of historical biographies that transcend sports.

    Eig will explain how his groundbreaking biography of Lou Gehrig changed our understanding of an American hero; how he earned the trust of Jackie Robinson’s wife in writing an intimate portrait of Robinson’s first season in major-league baseball; and how his childhood love for Muhammad Ali helped him begin to understand race in America.

    As he ties it all together, Eig illustrates the manner in which athletic competition has served as a force for justice and equality, how all the subjects of his books — Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Al Capone, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, and…yes, even the birth-control pill — have a connection through sports.


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