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Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning…

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

by Manning Marable

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This is an absorbing and meticulously detailed biography of Malcolm X. It isn't definitive, as Marable readily admits, largely because how much FBI documentation on Malcolm's life remains classified. It's still an impressively thorough biography; while I haven't read the Autobiography, it's clear that Marable is attempting to write a counterpoint to that work which strips away much of the hagiographical mystique that has come to surround Malcolm in the years since his murder. Marable follows Malcolm through his life's numerous "reinventions": from the young Malcolm Little of Omaha, Nebraska, to zoot-suited petty criminal to divisive, conservative black nationalist to orthodox Muslim campaigner for human rights. The man Marable writes about is a profoundly flawed individual who was nonetheless brilliant and committed to his work, a polished rhetorician, who was clearly killed just at the moment when he was about to reinvent himself again. Definitely recommended. ( )
  siriaeve | Jun 10, 2013 |
I found myself talking back to Malcolm X a lot in this book.

Malcolm X achieved fame as a Minister in the Nation of Islam, which is not to be confused with the orthodox or mainstream version of that religion. Rather, it was a Black separatist religion that included a mythology called "Yacub's History", in which an evil black scientist named Yacub was supposed to have created the white man "the Devil" as sort of a lab experiment. After serving a few years in prison in the early fifties and converting to the NoI while incarcerated, Malcolm Little, or Malcolm X, as he later came to be known, became a minister in the faith and preached this hateful doctrine for about ten years.

Malcolm made his first journey to the Middle East in 1959 and saw how orthodox Islam was practiced and by whom (all races, including whites). In Spike Lee's film, it was presented that it was this first trip that converted Malcolm away from his hateful views, toward a message of tolerance. I was disappointed to read in this book that that wasn't strictly true. It wasn't until his third trip to the Middle East, in 1964, that Malcolm dropped the hate rhetoric.

He was eventually shunned by the NoI and marked for death, as many heretics of that faith were. In Malcolm's case, he earned an especial vehemence of hatred from the NoI because he exposed the adultery of its leader, Elijah Mohammed. He was killed by NoI members, perhaps with the aid of federal and local authorities, depending on who you believe. Current NoI offshoot leader Louis Farrakhan, originally a friend and protege of Malcolm's was one of the voices calling for his death.

I guess I feel more respect than admiration for the man. To my mind, he preached hate for far too long, and didn't turn it around into positive action until much too late. I understand that the time of his dying was not of his own choosing, but there were so many wasted years there.

Loved the book though. It presented me with a character with whom I disagreed, and with who I carried on hours of spirited debate in my mind before I closed the covers. ( )
  EricKibler | Apr 6, 2013 |
Will be returning to this. The narrative is not exactly fast-paced, but smooth and almost conversational. Lots of interesting background on various black rights movements, race politics at the time. ( )
  la.grisette | Mar 31, 2013 |
Incendiary biography of a powerful and complex man. I felt somewhat disheartened to read some of the things I did about him, but then again, few of the figures around him were free of faults. The fact still remains that Malcolm X was a visionary who rose up from nothing and was willing to die for what he believed in. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Cover a famous song and people will test its merits. Reboot a loved film and fanboys will let you know what they think. Write a biography that re-explores a very respected autobiography and you are guaranteed to elicit comparison.

It seems perhaps unfair to compare Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X to The Autobiography of Malcolm X published in 1965. The Autobiography... as told to Alex Haley has sold several million copies and been named one of the most important and influential biographies ever written. It is a hallmark work of non-fiction and continues to be celebrated nearly fifty years after its publication. And yet, a comparison between the two books is in order. What better do we have to measure Marable's work by?

The difference between the two works is as obvious as the covers. The most circulated cover of The Autobiography of Malcolm X features a color painting of a thoughtful Malcolm X, his hair dissolving into the swirl of clouds in the blue sky above, two more images of his face in the background that perhaps show his more revolutionary side and his gentler side.

The first edition cover of Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention shows a black-and-white photograph of the contemplative, teacher Malcolm. The cover features little flair, almost no color, its straight lines box the name of Malcolm X and give the image of Malcolm little room to move.

This is exactly what you should expect from these two books.

While The Autobiography... was a beautiful and organic declaration of faith, moving and inspiring in its execution, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is a detached, yet very meticulous portrayal of Malcolm X, as well as those who surrounded him. Though not “definitive,” Malcolm X provides a detailed account of Malcolm's life, from an exploration of his parents' lives to every step Malcolm, his advisers, and his enemies took in the final hours of his life. Marable fills in all those facts Malcolm X and Haley couldn't have known, i.e. who among Malcolm's entourage may have been an informant (for the FBI, the NYPD, the NOI, etc.), and those details no one would've divulged at the time, .i.e. who slept with whom. It nearly completes the image we have of Malcolm. It is a high resolution photograph of his life. But it lacks all the magic and wonder of The Autobiography....

Both books have their place, and I don't think Marable should be faulted for creating such an intricate mapping of Malcolm's life, a task which Marable apparently spent decades on. Marable's work should be praised, but it will never be what The Autobiography... was and is. Though it provides a more complete picture, it should always be read secondary to the 1965 autobiography. Before you learn about Malcolm's life, you really need to be introduced to Malcolm's soul. ( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Although Manning Marable may not have succeeded in writing a definitive work, his considerable scholarship does remind us how much is elided by any tale of a pilgrim's progress.
added by Katya0133 | editRemnick, David, New Yorker (Apr 25, 2011)
added by Katya0133 | editNew York Amsterdam News, Boyd Herb (Apr 21, 2011)
[A] landmark book that reflects not only thorough research and accessible prose but, most impressively, unvarnished assessments and consistently acute interpretive judgments.
added by Katya0133 | editWilson Quarterly, David J. Garrow (Apr 1, 2011)
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No one has made more sacrifices to realize the completion of this work than Leith Mullings. For more than a decade, she has bee my constant companion and intellectual compass as I have attempted to reconstruct the past. This work is hers.
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Malcolm X's father, Earl Little, Sr., was born in Reynolds, Georgia, on July 29, 1890.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670022209, Hardcover)

Years in the making--the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties. Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Draws on new research to trace the life of Malcolm X from his troubled youth through his involvement in the Nation of Islam, his activism in the world of Black Nationalism, and his assassination.

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