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

Malcolm X by Manning Marable
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Aug 20, 12

bookshelves: history, civil-rights, biography, africa, islam, religion
Read in January, 2012

It has taken me a long time to get around to writing a review of this book because I am still thinking about it. To put this into context: when I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X back when it was first published, it changed my life. I grew up in Atlanta and attended the University of Georgia. I was active in the Civil Rights movement. Friends would give me secondhand copies of The Prophet Speaks, which I read with a great deal of interest and curiosity.

When I read Haley and Malcom's book, I was trying to puzzle out exactly what The Nation of Islam was. What I found in their book instead was the story of a personal journey that deeply resonated with me. The authors forever changed my worldview, for which I will be eternally grateful. However, there were portions of Malcolm's life in their pages that seemed sanitized or quickly passed over, and I always wondered what else there was to learn about this highly intelligent, perceptive man.

All of my questions have been answered in Professor Marable's book. It is immaculately researched, and includes internal documents from the Nation of Islam that add a great depth to his subject. I especially wondered about Malcolm's childhood. The activities of his parents as followers of Marcus Garvey are presented here in great detail. Within the telling of the story of his parents is lucid explication of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the toll racial discrimination took on the United States, and most especially on Malcolm's household. His father died on the streetcar tracks, which may or may not have been an accident. His mother subsequently suffered mental deterioration that led to the children being placed in foster homes. For Malcolm's part, a long string of foster homes led him into turning to a life of petty crime.

Many other aspects of his life, such as his sexual relationship with a rich white man during his Detroit Red phase and his stormy relationship with his wife Betty Shabazz are covered matter-of-factly. Many, many details emerge on the inner workings of the Nation of Islam. Marable's accounts of Malcolm's international visits and his haj include a wealth of material.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the story of Malcolm's split from the Nation of Islam, and the events leading up to his death. After his split with Elijah Muhammed, attempts on his life escalated. His house was firebombed, and Malcolm became convinced that the Prophet was trying to have him killed. His fatalistic view did not help to keep him alive. Finally, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21, 1965, he was assassinated. Although three men served time for his murder, Marable asserts that the real shooter was not even arrested. His (MM's) account of exactly how the shooting took place provides one of the most complete accounts of what happened that day.

Professor Marable died days before this book first hit the bookstores. In one sense, it is a shame that he did not live the accolades that this book has so justly received. In another, though, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention stands as a monument to both the subject of the biography and to the author. I give it my very highest recommendation.
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