Reviews for Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention

Booklist Reviews 2012 May #1
*Starred Review* Malcolm X carefully shaped his own legend when he collaborated with Alex Haley on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which became a best-seller when it was published just months after Malcolm X's assassination on February 21, 1965. Only 39 when he died, Malcolm lived multiple lives to an extent never fully appreciated until now. Marable, a prominent professor of history and African American studies and a prolific author (Living Black History, 2006), spent more than a decade painstakingly analyzing previously unavailable archival materials and gathering new information to construct the most thorough and incisive portrait yet of this complicated, controversial, and enormously influential spiritual and political leader. Electric with recovered facts and jolting revelations, Marable's dramatic and penetrating portrait is set within richly configured historical and cultural settings that illuminate long-neglected facets of the civil rights movement. Serving jail time during what might have been his college years had his trail-blazing activist father not died or, more likely, been murdered, leaving the family destitute and his mother institutionalized, Malcolm believed he found a holy mentor in Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. Marable covers each phase of Malcolm's rapid rise in the Nation of Islam power structure, keenly assesses his galvanizing impact as a fiery and righteous champion of black nationalism, and tracks how his evolving vision and internal Nation of Islam corruption and strife led to his betrayal and murder. Here, too, are clarifying insights into the private conflicts of this brilliant, eloquent, magnetic, and zealous thinker, his outlaw years, troubled marriage, ceaseless travels, political prescience, and fatalism. The most chilling facets of the book are Marable's chronicling of the FBI's deep infiltration into the Nation of Islam and, after his ostracism, Malcolm's organizations and of possible FBI collusion in Malcolm's assassination and the failure to bring his killers to justice. Marable's paramount biography leaves readers wondering where Malcolm's spiritual and humanitarian metamorphosis might have taken him and everyone within reach of his commanding voice. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2011 September
Columbia University professor Marable died shortly before the publication of his marvelous biography of Malcolm X. Since Malcolm's assassination in 1965 by followers of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, Malcolm has been best known through his autobiography (written with Alex Haley), published shortly after his death. Nearly a half-century later, Marable has written a compelling reinterpretation of Malcolm's life, answering questions raised by the autobiography. Insisting "Malcolm's strength was his ability to reinvent himself," Marable concludes that Malcolm was an eloquent advocate for black self-respect, a representative of the black underclass, and "the most important bridge between the American people and the more than one billion Muslims throughout the world." The biography exposes inaccuracies in earlier accounts of Malcolm's life (including the autobiography), details the split between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad, and scrutinizes the assassination plot, raising questions such as the likelihood of an informer within Malcolm's[Fri Apr 29 04:21:48 2016] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. inner circle. Malcolm was one of a handful of the most important African Americans in the 20th century, and perhaps the least understood. This book is unrivaled among interpretations of a complicated man and his monumental impact. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 May #2

A candid, corrective look at the Nation of Islam leader and renegade—and a deeply informed investigation of the evolution of his thinking on race and revolution.

For decades, distinguished scholar Marable (African-American Affairs/Columbia Univ.; Living Black History: How Re-Imagining the African-American Past Can Remake America's Racial Future, 2006, etc.) studied the life and work of Malcolm X (1925–1965), and this meticulous sifting of the fact from the fiction expertly places him within the civil-rights movement of the time and as catalyst for the emerging Black Power struggle. The author looks beyond the myth that "Malcolmites" have woven around their leader and returns to original sources, such as NOI members and former members; Malcolm's widow and their children; African and Islamist chiefs Malcolm met on his extensive travels abroad; civil-rights activists, who were wary of his views on racial separatism; and files by the FBI and New York Police Department, who may have been complicit in his assassination by NOI operatives on Feb. 21, 1965. First and foremost, Marable deconstructs Alex Haley's masterly Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which he and Malcolm collaborated on for years before Malcolm's death, but which exaggerates the exploits of Malcolm's earlier manifestation as "Detroit Red," probably in order to render more powerful the conversion to Islam of this hustler, pimp and thief incarcerated at the Norfolk Prison Colony. For years, Malcolm was NOI's exalted evangelical front man and first minister, broadcasting the organization's anti-white, anti-political doctrine before Malcolm's recognition of the crucial work of the civil-rights activists and the need for global black political engagement prompted his break with the NOI to embrace what Marable terms Pan-Africanism. Moreover, Malcolm could not sanction Elijah Muhammad's extramarital affairs and out-of-wedlock children, setting in motion a perilous countdown to NOI retribution. The Malcolm X revealed here was troublingly misogynist and occasionally precipitous in action and speech, but possessed a dauntless sincerity and intelligence that was only beginning to shape and clarify his message for humanity.

A bold, sure-footed, significant biography of enormous depth and feeling.


Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 July #1
With nearly 3.5 million copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in print, why do we need a biography? Marable, founding director of African American studies at Columbia, drew on lots of new material, including diaries, lost chapters of the autobiography, and previously unavailable FBI files. -Important. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 November #1

Embargoed until March 8, 2011.

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

It is truly a shame that Marable passed away just days before this epic masterwork reached stores. This is a book whose reputation preceded itself and would have required little promotion; allegations by Marable that Malcolm both participated in a homosexual encounter with an early patron and was unfaithful to his wife Betty had already raised the ire of two of Malcolm's daughters, as well as others in the black community for whom Malcolm X has been raised to near-sainthood over the 40-odd years since his assassination. But neither claim is based on much evidence, and neither takes away from the overall impact of the work. Indeed the towering achievement of this book, which took Marable almost two decades to complete, is his ability to present Malcolm X as a flawed, struggling human being, as much at odds with his government as with himself. Marable deftly follows the same narrative path as did Haley's autobiography, but filling in the gaps and fine-tuning the exaggerations of that best-selling volume. Combing through FBI and NYPD files, gathering Nation of Islam interviews, and fleshing out Malcolm's post-NOI activities abroad, Marable succeeds spectacularly in painting a broader and more complex portrait of a man constantly in search of himself and his place in America. (Apr. 4)

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