Walter's Reviews > Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Malcolm X by Manning Marable
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Aug 28, 11

Read in August, 2011

The late Manning Marable was a lion of the contemporary African-American history community and deservedly so. It's a bit ironic and sad, then, that this work, the crowning achievement of his decades-long career, was published posthumously and that he didn't live to receive the full extent of the accolades that his work, especially in this latest incarnation, deserves. This book is masterful: piercingly insightful, thoroughly researched and unflinchingly candid about its subject. In all, it is a worthy and satisfying experience....

But it's a tough read, at least for the first quarter or so. Frankly, Marable's style is less consistent than I remember it from previous works in the first part of the book, so, frankly, it takes a while to get into it. Once drawn in, though, the treasure trove of revelation, analysis and insight is deep. For a world that largely takes Malcolm X's autobiography as definitive, this is a shock to the system as it definitely expands upon and replaces that initial seminal work.

What Marable does so effectively in this work is to de-mystify and humanize the icon that his subject has become, especially by differentiating between the public record to this point (including as recorded in the Autobiography) and the reality behind it. Here we see Malcolm in all of his raw glory: a young boy looking for love and family stability; a young hustler whose actual malfeasance is less than he makes it out to be; a young Minister in the Nation of Islam struggling to build its franchise while navigating its politics; a troublingly detached husband and father; an early and racist zealot evolving into a more mature and inclusive prophet; a doomed man intent upon pursuing his new path despite the prohibitive risks; and a very human, flawed person struggling to live up to the acclaim that he had earned in his own lifetime. Thanks to Marable, readers will come to appreciate and admire Malcolm more but may not actually like him as much. As with every icon, the reality is far more complex and typically less inspiring. So, too, with the enigmatic Malcolm Little cum Malik el-Shabazz.

There is much new ground here: we learn of some homoerotic (if not homosexual) episodes in Malcolm's Boston-based hustler phase, and of his seeming indifference to and ambivalence about his marriage while continuing to pine for an early love who joins the NOI to her ruin, and of his inconsistent views on race after his split from the NOI and his revelatory Mecca trip, and of the unfortunate series of poor decisions by Malcolm and others prior to and after his assassination, etc. Unfortunately, we also are treated to assertions that seem like speculation fairly often, notable in a contrasting way because they are most often shared without context. My suspicion is that the author covered so much ground that, occasionally, he omitted such source information in the interest of 'brevity' (if one can associate this concept with a book of almost 500 pages of content and 100 pages of notes and other corroborating information). There are also some aspects or periods of his subject's life that the author covers in less detail than others have, which seems an unusual choice for a book that clearly strives to be comprehensive and encyclopedic.

This being said, this is a grand work, a big, ambling, trove of insight and information about one of the most fascinating and compelling personages of the last century and one whose legacy seems to continue to grow almost a half-century after his death. As such, then, Marable has done us an incredible service, as we come to understand and appreciate Malcolm X in all of his vexing and inspiring complexity in a much greater way because of this worthy effort. Too bad we can no longer thank the author personally....
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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg Allen In light of your comments on Manning last book I would respectfully urge you to read an opposing view. Its title is A Lie of Reinvention Correcting Mannings Marables Malcolm X. I have read both Manning and Balls work. peace.


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