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Manchild in the Promised Land

4.34  ·  Rating Details ·  6,297 Ratings  ·  271 Reviews
Manchild in the Promised Land is indeed one of the most remarkable autobiographies of our time. This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown's childhood as a hardened, streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem has been heralded as the definitive account of everyday life for the first generation of African Americans raised in the Northern ghe ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 3rd 1999 by Touchstone (first published 1965)
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I started going to night school… Most of the cats who were out there on the corners dealing stuff now were the newcomers. Most of the cats I came up with were in jail or dead or strung out on drugs. I’d been out on street life long before these cats ever knew how to role a reefer. I could do what I wanted … and not worry about anybody naming me lame. I’d been through the street life thing. At seventeen, I was ready to retire from it. I’d already had ten or eleven years at it.

Claude Brown. Born i
Frank Stein
May 10, 2011 Frank Stein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me forever to finish this book because it is very long and it has little or no structure. Overall, it's just an endless series of little vignettes, but it still may be one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

The book is a semi-fictionalized account of the author's life growing up as a small-time street criminal in Harlem in the 1940s and 50s (the narrator is, like the author, named Claude Brown). He eventually gets shot escaping from a heist, gets put in a juvenile detention center,
May 23, 2010 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary book documenting the impact of generations of cultural disruption, violence, and cruelty. This is the memoir of a member of the first generation after the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to the northern cities, in this case Harlem, but you can feel how directly the roots of this experience reach back through slavery and its aftermath. I felt very strongly the disjuncture between the rhetorical power of the text and the extreme cultural privation Brown d ...more
Tony Hynes
Nov 29, 2015 Tony Hynes rated it it was amazing
This is probably my favorite book. It impacted me in ways that are hard to describe. For one, Brown's account of what happened to those who used heroine stuck with me to this day. I wasn't exactly thinking about trying heroine or any other hard drug before, but reading Manchild in the Promised Land ensured I would never go down that path. Throughout the book it seems like Claude loses everyone he ever cared about to jail, heroine, or death. If anyone wonders where the anger of the Black Panther ...more
Aug 01, 2012 Nicki rated it it was amazing
I read this book in high school. I had been deeply affected by the Watts riots in the mid-sixties. It upset me to see the violence and at the same time I knew that it came from hundreds of years of festering hurt, fear and anger among African Americans. It looked like the beginning of another civil war to me.

My father was a teacher and had taught us all about the real American history that was not being taught in the schools in those days. He taught us about slavery, the abusive treatment of th
Mar 07, 2009 Shay rated it it was amazing

Best book I've ever read. I'm from Harlem, so I can really relate to a whole lot he wrote about, even tho he wrote about a Harlem 30 years before my time.

I give this to all my male friends who get locked up. Yeah, I kno that sounds funny, but I just want them to see that other people have gone thru they what they've gone thru, lived the life they've lived, and managed to get thru it to the other side.
Anthony Keys
Jan 01, 2014 Anthony Keys rated it it was amazing
This is a harsh book. This is a painful book. This is a funny book. This is a real book. Any teacher teaching urban children should read this book to understand the suffering and pain of street life. It is an accomplishment that the author was able to overcome his past to tell his story.
Mar 26, 2008 Lorna rated it it was amazing
Manchild in the Promised Land (1965) is an autobiographical novel written by Claude Brown. It tells about the author's coming of age amidst poverty and violence in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s and has frequently appeared on banned book lists.

I read this coming-of-age story when I was a kid growing up in a single family household living in the projects in the Bronx. It touched the core of my soul, and gave voice to a voiceless girl-child of color. This is a must read if one is to understand
I first read Manchild on the Promised Land at 12 years old which started my love affair with urban fiction. Claude Brown, a first generation Harlemite, tells his journey as he navigates the streets of Harlem in the 40s and 50s; how he got started in the streets at the age of six, how he survived, and most importantly how he lived to tell about it.

MITP has all the urban elements - gangs, hustlers, drug dealers, number runners, pimps and prostitutes. Sonny Boy's introduction to "the life" started
Nov 05, 2014 Maggie rated it liked it
Damn. I mean daaamn. If this were made into a movie, it'd be called "Hard to Watch" and Tracy Jordan would star in it.

I do agree that this is an "important" book. The author's voice is not a voice that you will probably hear in any other reading circles, even if you look for other autobiographies about kids growing up in dire poverty. This is not "Angela's Ashes", or "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." This is not even "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" or "Black Boy."

The difference between those novels
Man O'neal
Nov 01, 2010 Man O'neal rated it it was amazing
Along with "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" this is without a doubt the most compelling book I've read. Quite simply, it's incredibly entertaining and damn near impossible to put down. You may very well find yourself awake at three o'clock in the morning satisfying your urge to discover what memories of Harlem Mr. Brown has to share on the next page. This desire to read was contributed to, for me at least, by the simplicity of the writing. There is no need for a dictionary when reading this book ...more
May 02, 2011 Brent rated it it was amazing
An engaging and insighful read about a boy growing up and out of Harlem, though more out of the expected lifestyle than the neighborhood. Brown doesn't pull any punches, giving his own bad and good deeds freely, although never without thought later as to the why's. As much about Harlem itself and what it expected from it's youth, as it is about his own story. The landscape changes when heroin or "the plague" takes over, affecting everyone he knows in some fashion. Brown is able to find goodness ...more
Mister Jones
Apr 07, 2008 Mister Jones rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who reads for meaning
Recommended to Mister Jones by: My mama (she had to read it for a college course)
I remembered reading this eons ago, and there are still parts of that fictionalized/non-fiction memoir I remember. Brown growing up in Harlem during the 40s and 50s is rough, but I like how he wrote in clear prose, and didn't shy away from the difficulties and the unpleasantries of being in a depressing environment; he perserveres, and I think there's a message here that transcends racial lines and time.
Apr 25, 2015 Scout rated it really liked it
This is a personal, subjective, and very readable account of one Black man's experience in the New York City of the '40s and '50s. Boys grow up on the streets and learn to survive by stealing from the Whites who own the businesses. They are incarcerated in detention centers. The Plague (heroin addiction) is rampant. What saves Claude Brown is that he doesn't get arrested after the age of 16, and he has a bad reaction the first time he tries heroin. Like many of us, he's saved by accident. He goe ...more
Suave Marve
Oct 23, 2013 Suave Marve rated it it was amazing
Excellent book for young black males going through adolescence! I made troubled children I worked with that absolutely refused to read or had never read a book in their entire lives agree to read 1 chapter and that's it. They tore this whole book apart fighting over it and I never got it back :( lol ! awesome!
Adrian Ennis
Jul 13, 2014 Adrian Ennis rated it really liked it
great book, provided great perspective on this mans life and reminded me that in life it is worth fighting for success despite the many obstacles one may encounter
Derek Davis
Oct 13, 2009 Derek Davis rated it it was amazing
My favorite book, hadn't read it in years. Actually brought tears to my eyes this time. It's such a vivid portrayal of the world he grew up in, immensely inspiring.
David C.
Jul 07, 2015 David C. rated it really liked it
When this was published in 1965, I was 11 years old. By the time we moved in 1967 I had read this about 6-8 times completely through, and fully 30 times about halfway. Claude Brown describes his Harlem childhood and it seemed so exotic and dangerous, especially to a sheltered kid in a small, New Hampshire village. He escaped from the brutality, crime, despair that demoralized almost everybody around him, to become a lawyer. His achievement is the more remarkable in light of his early and steadfa ...more
Feb 23, 2015 (a)lyss(a) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a tough book to read.

It's fascinating and hard to look away though. The writing is very straightforward, there's no mixing metaphors or prose-y approach to the truth. It's mostly a vivid retelling of one person's story that jumps around in his life.

What I really liked is it's a perspective that so often gets ignored. How many books about the experience of black men are actually written by black men? It's a heartfelt and honest retelling. No sugar coating life experiences or mistakes. Bu
Theophilus (Theo)
Jul 09, 2010 Theophilus (Theo) rated it really liked it
I read this many years ago whlie on active duty overseas in the Air Force. I had been assigned to read it in during the 1960's in high school and read it mechanically without much thought. I reread it while in service much slower and it was extremely influential in starting a lifelong habit of reading non-fiction as well as a good novel. People's individual stories are very useful in developing an adult feeling of empathy for others that most small children have naturally but seems to leave us u ...more
Dec 21, 2007 Kelly rated it really liked it
Read as part of AP English. So glad Lynch chose this for our read, because I might not have been able to appreciate it otherwise. Probably one of the first books that opened my eyes to the realities of the past, and not just their imagined states. Set in the 1950s, an era of soda shoppes and black and white TV, but facing significant urban issues that still plague socities today - breaking the mold of our contrived notions of the 50s - great, great read. Loved being able to get a glimpse inside ...more
Lavon Youins
Jan 26, 2014 Lavon Youins rated it liked it
My dad recommending that I read this autobiography. I wasn't really interested in Brown's story because it had nothing to do with me. I couldn't connect to that protagonist yet, somehow, his story and the pivotal events that occurred throughout his life kept me engaged. I'm not going to spoil the story for you, but this autobiographies that I have read solely because of the last sentence. Read it through the last sentence - trust me, it's worth it and it ends perfectly.
Nikki Hoskin
Oct 24, 2012 Nikki Hoskin rated it did not like it
I have to say that the author could have said in two chapters what he said in 18. I had heard about this book growing up and the title itself got my attention. What got me to finally read the book was my college English 1B course. To say the least, the instructor has decided to not teach this book anymore because the entire class disliked it so much.

Its all to familiar; that which we never experienced but know all too well. A novel that I will always hold dear to me because it speaks not only for me but those who came before me. The promiseland is our intercity that we have lost our way in.
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 Mark Bowles rated it it was amazing
A. Historical influences
1. The Great Migration north to New York City during the depression.
2. Religious influences attempted to change city life. These included Coptics (All religion emerged in Ethiopia and Jesus was black) and the Muslims (a separatist movement which recruited most of its members in jail).
3. Jazz was also an influence because it provided a way for some of the black youth to get out of the city.
B. Why is this book important
1. Its importance lies in its truth, its realism. It i
Jan 28, 2016 Suzy rated it it was amazing
Claude Brown's childhood growing up in Harlem in the 40s and 50s. "It was real wrong to call somebody a nigger in front of a paddy boy. That's the way they felt. It made me feel a little bit bad myself. This sort of cooled everything down. But saying "nigger" wasn't the main thing to me. The main thing was that these cats were try to f**k over this paddy boy. And this paddy boy was more man than any of those cats there. I didn't care. Between us, there was no nigger thing. There was no white, no ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
When seeing reviews for books by James Baldwin, remembering my 1960s fascination with his worldview, I tend to think, too, of Brown's Manchild.

Here's what one less impressed reviewer wrote


Manchild is a naturalistic autobiography which carries Brown through his Harlem childhood and adolescence to his middle twenties, Some of the names are apparently changed, but the detail and dialogue are authentically unsparing. The accent is on drugs and sex during the Forties and Fifties. Brow
Apr 04, 2014 Paula rated it really liked it
OK, I've been trying to find this book on Good reads, just to put it on my READ list. Turns out the serach engine lists it as something a bit different. And since I read it in collge, years ago, I couldn't remember the author.

Yes, this was a big book to read, even in paperback. First looks made me wonder if I would finish this lengthy story. But it was a fascinating and wonderful story. Sad, too, when you see what children then and now cope with at home, in neighborhoods, etc. It was nice to see
Jun 09, 2014 Drew rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
Times change. And with the changing times comes a change in perspective. So while Claude Brown's memoir may have been revelatory in its day today it now reads like a self-congratulatory autobiography of an unrepentant bully who defied the odds and escaped the ghetto, the rest of the world be damned. There's a certain meanness in Brown's respect for violence and his indifference to victims. He seems to think he's the coolest cat on the block but I left this book thoroughly unconvinced.
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