Alex Roberts's Reviews > Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Malcolm X by Manning Marable
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's review
Apr 25, 2011

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Manning Marable's highly awaited work is certainly an enriching read and will be hard to best as far as being a comprehensive review of the life of Malcolm X. One of the author's intents is to throw light on some of the grey or misleading areas that have settled into lore over the years owing to Alex Haley's canonical "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." This objective is clearly met as Marable persuasively examines why sections of the Haley book appear to be unsubstantiated and/or driven either by the author's or his subject's respective, and often divergent, motivations.

That said, though this will no doubt stand as the definitive biography of the now revered icon for decades to come, it does not quite have the feel of a monumental work in the way that say, Arnold Rampersad's two part Langston Hughes bio achieved, especially considering the years that the esteemed scholar devoted to the project. However, perhaps that's an unfair comparison in that Marable has a far less sweeping period to cover.

There is an obvious wealth of intensive research apparent behind these 500 pages (+ notes), but one could manage with a bit less of Joe 18X's conflicts with John 22X and similar minutiae. Some of the post-assassination portion is also a bit busy with the tracking of the numerous parties potentially involved and their various actions over the subsequent years.

Marable is strongest and most captivating when relating Malcolm's ideological evolution over the final few years of his life. Charting his travels in the brimming, post-colonial fervor of Africa in the early 1960's, he brings across how Malcolm emerged from the absurd theological rigamarole of the Nation of Islam to embrace the less exclusionary thinking of actual, traditional Islam. He also traces his subject's interest in the activist strategies of the pan-Africanist movement and gets into some of the off and on engagement with more moderate civil rights organizations.

Befitting his standing as a Professor of political science (among other things), the author seems most engaged when considering the growth of Malcolm's grasp of how the fight for civil rights figured into the broader global struggles to eliminate oppression and inequality. A brief epilogue has Marable concisely and somewhat more interpretively, recapping the main points of what preceded.

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