The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Alternate cover for ISBN 9780345350688Through a life of passion and struggle, Malcolm X became one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. In this riveting account, he tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca, describing his transition from hoodlum to Muslim minister. Here, the man who called himself "the angriest Black man in America" relates how his...

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Title:The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Author:Malcolm X
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The Autobiography of Malcolm X Reviews

  • Chris Van Dyke

    I'm in such awe of this book and the man behind it that I don't think I can really give it a fair review. I came late to Malcolm X - I didn't pick up his autobiography until I was twenty-five, during my third year teaching in the Bronx. He manages to so clearly articulate the injustice and anger that results from racism in America, and at the same time is unflinchingly honest regard his own life and his own failings. Following the progression of his thought and philosophy changed the way I thoug

    I'm in such awe of this book and the man behind it that I don't think I can really give it a fair review. I came late to Malcolm X - I didn't pick up his autobiography until I was twenty-five, during my third year teaching in the Bronx. He manages to so clearly articulate the injustice and anger that results from racism in America, and at the same time is unflinchingly honest regard his own life and his own failings. Following the progression of his thought and philosophy changed the way I thought about race, class, and America. He was murdered just as he was truly becoming a massive force in America and the World, and the potential that was lost with him is staggering. For everyone who thinks of Malcolm X only as violent and hating white people, you need to read this book; he was much more aggressive and uncompromising than Martin Luther King, but he was equally beautiful and inspiring.

  • Isaac

    This book counts for a lot. Cornel West says that one of the deepest fears for black America is that Malcolm X was fundamentally right, that the political system here is incapable of being changed through traditional means in order to serve the black community what they are due. "What are they due?" asks the conservative... A share in the incredible wealth of the country that they have labored to build for hundreds of years, often against their own will, answers the REALIST... self-actualization

    This book counts for a lot. Cornel West says that one of the deepest fears for black America is that Malcolm X was fundamentally right, that the political system here is incapable of being changed through traditional means in order to serve the black community what they are due. "What are they due?" asks the conservative... A share in the incredible wealth of the country that they have labored to build for hundreds of years, often against their own will, answers the REALIST... self-actualization, in whatever form that may take, answers Malcolm. Malcolm X scares the hell out of people even today because of his refusal to accept the current democratic system as a way for African-Americans to address their genuine bitterness towards a country that has screwed them over time and again. He also refutes racist claims of white intellectual superiority, absorbing the whole canon of European philosophy while in prison, and responding to it with fierce criticism. And he was a busboy in some of the greatest New York clubs that ever existed. I dunno. I'm another middle class white boy in the U.S. who has absorbed from a young age dramatic pictures of black culture - mostly negative - that don't so much reflect the culture so much as reflect the fears imposed on it by the elite. Malcolm X, along with Molefi Asante, Cornel West, Ishmael Reed, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin,

    ... all help to correct that skewed viewpoint.

  • Rowena

    - Malcolm X

    In High School my history syllabus covered just a few pages on African-American civil rights heroes. The majority of those pages were on Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X was barely mentioned. After reading this book I was

    - Malcolm X

    In High School my history syllabus covered just a few pages on African-American civil rights heroes. The majority of those pages were on Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X was barely mentioned. After reading this book I was perplexed! I wonder why Malcolm X hasn't been given the same respect as Dr. King; he contributed so much to the civil rights movement as well, yet my knowledge on this man was very minimal.

    How did Malcolm Little become Malcolm X aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz? This is what this book is all about. His transformation was remarkable especially as he spent time in foster homes and was a hustler in Detroit. He lived in an America where smart black kids were discouraged from being lawyers etc, and thus dropped out of school at young ages. It made me think for the umpteenth time just how can society malign and vilify black people, especially black men, when society itself is responsible for restricting them in the first place?

    Among the many things I admired about Malcolm X was his thirst for knowledge. He is a great advertisement for autodidactism and how effective and transformative self-education can be:

    It was hard for me to read this book and not compare Malcolm X’s philosophy to Dr. King’s. I always thought I would adhere more closely to Dr. King’s peaceful, nonviolence philosophy, but after reading this book I do agree with Malcolm X’s ideology as well. Not that I am advocating violence, but radicalness and action is sometimes needed, as are anger and indignation. As Malcolm X said, ““So early in life, I learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” I feel there is so much to learn from both men so I won’t say I prefer one doctrine over another. At the same time I wonder, how can people not become militant and revolutionary after having experienced so much cruelty and discrimination?

    Another thing I found interesting in this autobiography was Malcolm X’s religious transformation; from having been raised Christian, to entering the Nation of Islam (NOI), he finally found his spiritual home in “mainstream” Islam. His depiction of his trip to Mecca in particular was very enlightening and a turning point in his life. His adoration of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the NOI, was quite sad, especially as Muhammad seems to have been a bit of a weirdo. Muhammad said something along the lines of too-short women marrying tall men and vice versa is ridiculous. Also, he said that a man should ideally marry a woman half his age plus 7 years.

    Malcolm is unapologetic about his views in this book and that's what I love best about this autobiography. His writing is very candid and so informative. This is an important book for all to read. The prevalence of eurocentrism in the world is astounding and I don’t think we really realize just how established it is. Malcolm X dissected the race problem so well, I felt inspired.

  • Ted

    Malcolm's dedication of the book.

    I will often refer to Malcolm X in the following as simply “X”.

    Besides the first person narration, this edition contains a Foreword by Malcolm’s eldest daughter,

    ; an Introduction by M.S. Handler, a NYT reporter whom Malcolm X reportedly believed had "none of the usual prejudi

    Malcolm's dedication of the book.

    I will often refer to Malcolm X in the following as simply “X”.

    Besides the first person narration, this edition contains a Foreword by Malcolm’s eldest daughter,

    ; an Introduction by M.S. Handler, a NYT reporter whom Malcolm X reportedly believed had "none of the usual prejudices or sentimentalities about black people"; an

    Epilogue by the writer of this book,

    (written for the first edition I believe); and a short essay, “On Malcom X”, by

    Normally one would think that a review of an autobiography could just jump around when talking about the book and the protagonist. This book is a bit different, in that the interviews that Alex Haley (the writer) had with Malcom X (the first person “narrator”) were mostly done before a major turning point in Malcolm X’s life. They both agreed, as the proofs neared their final version, that the sudden change in X’s views that occurred very late in his life should be left as the interviews originally made them – basically, a surprise ending.

    That said, I’m still not going to do spoilers. I’ll tell what I feel like telling, when I feel like telling it.

    Let Z = the number of people who have ever heard of him. Then I would suggest there are Z+2 views of who he was. One for each of those Z people, one that he believed about himself, and one that he really was.

    If you read this book, you’ll gain an idea of who you think he was, and who he thought he was. If you can read the Forward that’s in this edition, by Attallah Shabazz, you’ll discover who she thought he was; and if you can read the long epilogue written by Alex Haley (which you must, but only

    the part told by X), you’ll find out who Haley thought he was. And the review will give you an idea of who I think he was.

    Here are some of the things I (mostly) remember about Malcolm’s life, as he related it.

    His father, who traveled between various Black churches within driving distance of their home, espousing the ideas of Marcus Garvey; who was reviled by local whites, and was probably murdered, when Malcolm was six.

    His mother and siblings, who made do with almost no income for years, until the children were taken away and the mother put in an asylum when Malcolm was thirteen.

    The scattering of the children, to different foster homes. Malcolm lived with white families, whom he seems to remember fondly in the second chapter of the biography. Malcolm’s school years, in integrated schools in Lansing and Mason Michigan. His intelligence and popularity, his election as class president in seventh grade, one of the top students in school. Then that fateful day when a white eighth-grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be in life. Malcolm, who hadn’t thought about it, blurted out “a lawyer”. The teacher thought to help Malcolm by saying, “Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic… you’re good with your hands, why don’t you plan on carpentry?” X calls this “this first major turning point in my life.”

    His leaving Mason at fourteen to stay with his half-sister near Boston. (“All praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston; if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian.”) The friends he made there, good and bad. The stylish, tall, younger-than-he-looked manchild who, among many jobs, worked on a train so he could travel for free.

    1943, age 18, settling into the world of Harlem, taking to the life of the streets and crime – drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, pimping.

    In 1945 Malcolm Little, now called “Detroit Red” for his hair color, returned to Boston, where he led a gang of housebreakers. The next year he was arrested, convicted, sentenced to 8-to-10 years in Charlestown State Prison, where he began reading and studying. The introduction, through fellow-inmates and letters from some of his siblings, to the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Elijah Muhammed. The interesting aspects of those teachings: how people of the white race had been created as devils, how their abiding goal was to subjugate all non-whites; how the white man attempted to further these aims by foisting a religion (Christianity) on non-whites – a religion which would help satisfy natural desires in this world by promising rewards in another. How Malcolm came to accept these views as an explanation of the behavior of whites toward Black people.

    Paroled from prison in 1952, Malcolm journeyed to Chicago to meet Elijah Muhammed, impressed him with his intelligence and allegiance to Elijah’s teachings; and both wanted and was granted the role of principle agent for organizing Nation of Islam Mosques (“Temples”) in cities far and wide.

    The notoriety X gained, once the white world in the U.S. began taking notice of the Nation of Islam in the late ‘50s. He, rather than Elijah Mohammad, became the flashpoint for the white public’s fear of the Black Muslims.

    1961-2, the break with Elijah Mohammad, over sexual indiscretions of the leader on X’s part, and (presumably) fear and jealousy on Elijah’s part. The silencing of X by Elijah, accepted with humility by X.

    Then the pilgrimage to Mecca, on which everything changed. (See below,

    )

    Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965.

    From Haley’s Epilogue, we learn that Attallah, at that time six years old, carefully wrote a letter: “Dear Daddy, I love you so. O dear, O dear, I wish you wasn’t dead.” Also that Carl T. Rowan, at that time Director of the U.S. Information Agency, and in later years a highly respected Afro-American commentator, at the time said, “Mind you, here was a Negro who preached segregation and race hatred … All this about an ex-convict, ex-dope peddler who became a racial fanatic.”

    Well, I wonder if Mr. Rowan became somewhat less vociferous about X with the passage of time. For with the passage of time, Afro-Americans who “wished they were white” (as Malcolm used to say) seemed to come around – as did many whites who in the early sixties seemed terrified of the views of Malcom X (though probably, it must be said, not knowing or understanding very much about them).

    In fact, some of this may have started almost as soon as the book here reviewed was published, the year after his death. The New York Times reviewer described it as a "brilliant, painful, important book". Two years later, historian John William Ward wrote that it would become a classic American autobiography. In 1998, Time named it one of the ten most important nonfiction books of the twentieth century.

    By now, the list of “Memorials and Tributes” to Malcolm X cannot be enumerated easily. Places that he lived are now adorned with Historic markers; many streets (in Harlem, Brooklyn, Dallas, Lansing) and schools have been named after him - grade schools, high schools, the El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy, a public charter school with an Afrocentric focus, located in the building where he attended elementary school. In cities around the world, Malcolm X's birthday (May 19) is commemorated as Malcolm X Day.

    In 1996, the first library named after Malcolm X was opened, the Malcolm X Branch Library and Performing Arts Center of the San Diego Public Library system. In 2005, Columbia University announced the opening of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. The memorial is located in the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated.

    And the U.S. Postal Service issued a Malcolm X postage stamp in 1999. [This was the inspiration for the Foreward in this book by his daughter.]

    Having read this book, I do have a view of Malcom X. I never really did before. But first,

    At the time that X was beginning his mission to found mosques for the Nation of Islam, I, like almost all whites in the U.S. (except perhaps certain people in the FBI), had never heard of the man. But my ignorance was much more long-lasting. By 1962, when I graduated from high school, X had achieved a good deal of public notoriety. But I have no memories from that time of having heard his name.

    I was raised in a small town in west central Minnesota. I don’t think there was ever a Black person living there as I grew up. Never a Black kid in school with me. We may have occasionally played a football or basketball game against a larger school’s team that included a Black player, I can’t say for sure. And even though I was a reader, it was books I read, not newspapers. Look, I imagine there were adults in town who had read something about Malcolm X. But I’d never heard any talk, that I can remember.

    Well, then I went off to college. Out East. Okay, now I start knowing some Blacks, right? Uh-uh. Not at Georgetown University in the years I was there. [Don’t blame me, take it up with the Jesuits. We didn’t even have a Black on the basketball team in those years.] But hadn’t I wanted to go to college to broaden my horizons? Specifically, to become more diverse in my outlook? Heck, I didn’t even know what that use of “diverse” would have referred to. I thought it was pretty cool that I had the first couple of Jewish friends I’d ever had. But a Black?

    Whoa! I just thought of a Black at Georgetown in those years. A janitor who was often seen around the basketball arena. We all knew him, sort of.

    .

    Well, I can’t recall ever hearing Pebbles talk about Malcolm X. Maybe he did. But even in February 1965, when X was killed, I have no recollection of knowing anything about it – or about him.

    After twenty plus years of utter ignorance, and then a few more decades of knowing so little that I never even considered having an opinion about Malcom X, this is the way the book affected me.

    As I read the early chapters, I kept having thoughts of

    , which I read last year. When X, at the age of 18, got to Harlem in 1943, Claude Brown was four years old (and I wasn’t born). A lot of the experiences that Malcolm had in the Harlem years were pretty much lived by Brown, starting when he was only about eight years old.

    Thus the early part of the book, while incredibly interesting, and well-written, didn’t really affect my too much. Yes, here was an urban Black living by the way of the streets. But I’d read about it already. But then, reading on, as X went to prison and then became familiar with the teachings of Mr. Elijah Mohammad, suddenly I was reading these views about whites being devils, all whites being racists – that stuff.

    And here I am, thinking, “no, that’s not right. Not ALL whites. Not ME!” But every now and then, X would say something in a certain way, make a certain point, that would bring me up short. And I’d think, well MAYBE when it’s put like that … maybe … maybe he’s got something there, I’ve never looked at things from that exact angle.

    This actually happened several times, going from “not ALL whites” to suddenly “well maybe …”. And that really confusing state of mind, is what I would have been left with, had the book ended at the chapter before X went to Mecca.

    When Malcolm made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, he flew to Jedda, Saudi Arabia as a starting point. There he connected with a man he’d been referred to in America, Dr. Omar Azzam. X relates how this man would have been perceived as “white” in the U.S. Yet Azzam treated him as if he, Malcom X, were royalty.

    X had dinner at Azzam’s home. Azzam’s father treated Malcom like a son, and explained to him, “how color, the complexities of color, and the problems of color which exist in the Muslim world, exist only where, and to the extent that, that area of the Muslim world has been influenced by the West.”

    X wrote to his wife, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem… people who in America would have been considered ‘white’ [have had] the ‘white’ attitude removed from the minds by the religion of Islam… I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the oneness of God, then perhaps too they could accept

    the Oneness of Man… With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem.”

    So, in Saudi Arabia, X learned that the ‘Islam’ taught by Elijah Mohammad was not the true Islam of the world’s Muslims, which did

    teach that the people of the white race were devils, and that these ideas that had seemed so

    to his sense of injustice for many years were a chimera. From that day forward his ideas about racism in America began shifting significantly.

    Knowledge of this change in X’s ideas preceded him home. When he arrived back in the U.S. a press conference had been arranged. In Haley’s Epilogue he decribes what happened (he was there) when X was asked, “Do we correctly understand that you now do not think that all whites are evil?”

    Several pages later Haley describes a Canadian TV program on which X was asked about integration and intermarriage:

    And Haley writes, “From this, it would be fair to say that one month before his death, Malcolm had revised his views on intermarriage to the point where he regarded it as simply a personal matter.”

    My view of the man is still colored somewhat by the fact that two different versions of a religion were of such enormous importance in forming his own outlook on the racial problem. (But in a way this isn’t quite fair, since I, a generation younger than X, look at things from a viewpoint of having lived through the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, supporting that, and at the same time losing religion pretty completely.)

    At any rate, Haley tells us that in his last few weeks, X seemed often a confused man. In an interview he had said, “I’m man enough to tell you that I can’t put my finger on exactly what my philosophy is now, but I’m flexible.” A few days before his death, he had said to a

    magazine photographer/author whom he’d long respected, “In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a Muslim [ie, as a Nation of Islam Muslim] that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then – like all [of them] – I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years.”

    Malcolm X led a fascinating, and significant, life. This book is an honest telling of his story. As he changed at critical junctures, he gained and lost friends, admirers, disciples, enemies – on both sides of the color line. In the end, I believe he had reached a point where, if he’d lived, he would have been acknowledged by most as a great man; not just from a nostalgic, rose-colored-glasses viewpoint, but from the leadership that he might well have provided in bringing black and white people together. But I could be wrong.

    Read the book. Decide for yourself.

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  • Aubrey

    Sensationalist, yes? Reminiscent of certain responses to

    winning multiple Academy Awards at this year's Oscars, and this is nearly fi

    Sensationalist, yes? Reminiscent of certain responses to

    winning multiple Academy Awards at this year's Oscars, and this is nearly fifty years on. Within these pages, Malcolm X spoke of a hope that by the year 2000, the white-washing of Jesus and other Biblical figures would be ended, and the true unresolved question of their physical aspects would be reflected by portrayals ranging all across the spectrum. In the year 2014, certain groups had conniptions over suggestions that Santa Clause could be black. The world goes on, and popular thought appropriates.

    What is especially telling about that editorial first sentence up there is the overt interplay between prose and reader perception. This is important to consider when imbibing any text, but here, in context with racism, in context with classism, in context with the institutional ideologies' demand that all resistance be nonviolent while weighing it down with "sign of the times" murder, rampant lynching then and shotgunning teenagers now for reasons of "too loud music", in context with the autobiography of Malcolm X, ask yourself if a criminal record puts you off reading about a person, and then ask yourself why.

    Ask yourself what constitutes the "abnormal psychology", the "messianic delusions", the "upside-down religion of 'brotherly hatred'", the CEO, the politician, any belief that preaches intolerance for the non-believer. Ask yourself what half-hearted bullshit constitutes "If Malcolm X were not a Negro", passing off the enormous debt the US has to its history of slavery as an embarrassing pathos, a ploy, an "Oh, they kicked the puppy and now it's telling its story, of

    it'll get attention." Ask yourself what your memories of this monumental figure in history are, the first time you heard his name, whether you wondered at his story, his X, or condemned him from the start.

    My beginning was a mention of a footnote of violence in a summary of the 20th century. It took me more than ten years too long to extend my thinking beyond this roadblock.

    It is interesting to note how soon after Malcolm's change of heart he was assassinated. It is interesting to note how his message as a living embodiment of hope for those who have slipped through the cracks of well-to-do society has been seen as a mark against him. It is key to observe the contentions over the non-fictional aspect of this work, when the existence of Columbus Day renders the controversy not only absurd, but obscene. Either do not discriminate in your pointing of fingers at act and advocation of physical violence, or don't do it at all.

    Whatever your personal alignments with the beliefs conveyed in this book, it is and shall always be a gift to the world. While it may be true that I would have to be restrained from punching Malcolm X in the face for his deriding of women, especially his "any country's moral strength, or moral weakness, is quickly measurable by the street attire and attitude of its women", my disagreement does not impact my appreciation of his importance. What he believed in, he said, and the writing of this biography during the last few years of his life displays this dramatic evolution, all the more so because of Haley's keeping Malcolm X to his word of not changing the overarching message of any previous writing. It is his willingness to speak and question that led him on his pilgrimage to Mecca, it is this overhaul of both belief and character that led him from disenfranchised boy to city slick teenager to convict to minister to a crisis of conscience in full throes up to the point he was shot down. In his words, “I’m man enough to tell you that I can’t put my finger on exactly what my philosophy is now, but I’m flexible.” Patriarchal in delivery, admirable in gist.

    There is no point to freedom of speech if you don't want to hear disagreeable things. Communication is worth as much as the controversy it provokes, and it is worth even more if the person communicating is willing to change in accordance to what is received by an open mind. In that, Malcolm X was a rare, rare breed, decrying the patronizing "equality" of the North as harshly as the blatant discrimination of the South, sometimes regretting his words but never recanting them. Just look at his main counterpart, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even his proclaimed message of nonviolence doesn't save him from being condensed to a speech, a slogan, a "If Martin Luther King were alive today..." that ignores wholesale his indictment of capitalism, the Vietnam War, and so many other beliefs that don't fit in that image of a saint made comfortable for societal propagation. And this is how much the legacy of the "peaceful" civil rights activist has been twisted.

    Before starting this book, I had a vague outline of race riots and Muslims. Today, I know Malcolm X to have been a reader, a thinker, a leader cut down in the midst of shifts from wholesale condemnation to broader platforms of acceptance, a man learning to hate the game of societal oppression, not the multitude of players. Thirty-six years and a wide variety of beliefs both religious and otherwise separates his lifetime from mine, but we share a desire for true and ubiquitous equality, as well as a love for James Baldwin. For that, I am glad to have finally made his literary acquaintance.

  • Erin

    A masterpiece!

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X may be the most important autobiography ever written. I don't have the proper vocabulary to do this book its proper justice.

    A must read!

    African American Historical Fiction Bookclub

    The Book Bum Bookclub

    Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book involving a heist

    Ultimate Summer Reading Challenge: Read a book that features a father.

  • Hasham Rasool

    I love this book Alhamdulillah. I think 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' is one of the important non-fiction books.

    Everyone! This book is a must read!

    I need to tell people who haven't taught by Islam. Elijah Muhammad was not the Messenger of Allah because Allah said there is no Prophet will come after Prophet Muhammad SAW. Prophet Muhammad SAW was the last Messenger of Allah. Elijah might told them that he was the Messenger of Allah, he might have even believed that he was or he might have kno

    I love this book Alhamdulillah. I think 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' is one of the important non-fiction books.

    Everyone! This book is a must read!

    I need to tell people who haven't taught by Islam. Elijah Muhammad was not the Messenger of Allah because Allah said there is no Prophet will come after Prophet Muhammad SAW. Prophet Muhammad SAW was the last Messenger of Allah. Elijah might told them that he was the Messenger of Allah, he might have even believed that he was or he might have know that he wasn't we don't know but he told people that he was the Messenger of Allah and they believed him.

    Islam completed transform Malcolm X's life. Alhamdulillah.

    It is a very emotional book. If Malcolm X hadn't been assassinated then he would make a huge difference for Muslim people and Black people but it was his destiny.

    I have seen Malcolm X film it is a great film but it does disappoint me because the scene in the prison, they don't follow the book and they make up one character in the film.

    I think everyone should read this book. Trust me anyone will love this book.

    I am not sure if anyone agrees with my opinion about this comment. I feel Malcolm X had less recognition compared to famous people like Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln or JFK. people don't respect Malcolm X equal as Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama or JFK.

    I think there are two reasons that people don't respect Malcolm X. Firstly, could be because of Islam and secondly, could be because Malcolm X believed black people should fight White people for freedom.

    'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' is one of the books that I wouldn't forget and this book is one of the books that I would read again in the future. Inshallah.

    I love this book but I do have a favourite chapter. My favourite chapter of this book is Mecca. Alhamdulillah.

  • carol.

    Undoubtedly one of the most filling books I’ve read all year.

    It starts simply, with solid, familiar flavors, something like a brandy old-fashioned complete with fruit decorations, and a little bowl of candied pecans.

    Undoubtedly one of the most filling books I’ve read all year.

    It starts simply, with solid, familiar flavors, something like a brandy old-fashioned complete with fruit decorations, and a little bowl of candied pecans. Malcolm X begins by setting the scene of his parents, and his birth on May 19, 1925. It is one of the shortest sections, noting his father’s work as a traveling Baptist minister and his mother’s work making a home. His memories are informed by skin color, recalling his West Indian mother’s pale skin from her absent father and her favoritism towards her children who were darker. Preaching the words of Marcus Garvey, it wasn’t long before his father ran afoul of conservative, reactionary whites, chasing them from Nebraska to Wisconsin to Michigan. He was killed under very suspicious circumstances that allowed insurance agents to deny payment to a woman with eight hungry children. Taking welfare checks meant social worker after social worker dropping by the house as the kids would act up out of hunger, desperation, and being kids until the day Malcolm agreed to live with another family. He found his place for a while, but recalls the institutionalized racism that had him being elected eighth-grade class president at the same time he was told being a lawyer was beyond his reach, but perhaps carpentry was a possible career. A chance to visit his half-sister Ella in Boston set his life on the next path.

    Zoot suits

    If we were to continue with the food metaphor, this would be the stuffed egg appetizer, the crunch of radishes in dill, the chipped beef and sardine roll straight out of the 1950s: hints of flavor, spice; food that snaps in the mouth, not melts into ephemera. This was the section that surprised me the most: young Malcolm was a hustler. He found a cohort, Shorty, who became his homeboy and schooled him on the ways of the street. He got his first conk and first zoot suit. Much to Ella’s dismay, he left the ‘high-class’ sections of town for the pool-halls and dance-rooms where he learned to lindy-hop. After leaving a shoe-shine job, he had a short term working as a soda-jerk in a drugstore, where he met Laura, one of his favorite dancing partners. One night at a dance with her, he met Sophia, a white girl who was a bit older than he, and from the rich area of Beacon Hill. Only sixteen, Ella took steps to get him out of the influence of his circle by getting him a job on a railroad dining car. Eventually, he pulled his own strings and made his way to New York, and to Harlem. Cocky, a sharp dresser and with an eye to opportunity, he soon became ‘Detroit Red,’ to distinguish him from the other red-haired black men in his circle.

    A conk

    If the earlier chapters are courses, this is the section where we sneak out back to have a cigarette and a belt of moonshine. The Malcolm I expected was barely to be seen in these pages. He waited tables, picked up tips from the local power-brokers, became an avid movie-goer, and gambler. Because of his love of dance, he was in contact and friends with many of the musicians of his time. As a waiter, he had a side ‘referral’ business suggesting black prostitutes to white men and vice-versa. Eventually he was caught and moved into selling reefer. His scene attempting to get a 4-F draft classification was astounding. Graduating to burglaries with a friend, he soon went armed with a couple of guns. Eventually, he brought his brother Reginald into the life when Reginald left the Merchant Marines. It was nothing I had expected and lasted only four short years until he was caught pawning loot from a job done with old pals Shorty, Sophia and her cousin.

    Finally, to the main course! Solid, meaty, and not altogether unexpected. Like a roast that’s a bit scanty on the au jus, details from his time in prison were both flavorful and scarce. There’s his moniker, ‘Satan,’ his minor prison hustles, and being encouraged to go the library by one of the dominant inmates. His brothers Reginald and Philbert introduced him gradually to the Prophet Elijah Muhammad. As with everything, Malcolm committed wholeheartedly and was soon preaching to the Christians in the prison, as well as joining the debate team to hone his skills.

    Malcolm X

    This is a section that is so fascinating, and yet still somewhat disappointing. Malcolm did so much reading in the prison library, tutoring himself on a vast array of topics, learning about American history and oppression. At the same time, he was spreading the word of Fard through the Messenger Elijah Muhammad, who included a history of Islam that included one man breaking off to form the white race out of the seeds of the black and brown race as a form of revenge against Allah. There’s also some details about numerology and the Masons that was completely incomprehensible. I found it hard to reconcile his willingness to embrace what seemed to be a rather wild offshoot of Islam called Nation of Islam with the man who studied Kant.

    After seven years in prison, he moved back to his brother Wilfred’s home in Detroit and immersed himself in a ‘normal’ life of family, church and work at Ford Motor Plant. Before long he felt called to preach for Brother Elijah’s Temple One in Detroid. With his passion and energy, he was soon drawing followers to the temple, and before long, was traveling to other cities to spread the word. Clearly, this is the part that was most dear to Malcolm’s heart, as he detailed his progress spreading the word in Boston, Harlem and many other cities in between seeking personal tutoring from the Messenger in Chicago. His life became that of a dedicated evangelist, until he encountered Sister Betty in one of the temples and married her. Even then he continued to travel, building the Nation of Islam. He spoke at colleges, on the radio, television programs and even overseas, spreading the word about the black man in America. Eventually, however, he felt there was a lot of jealousy of his success, particularly as Elijah’s health grew more precarious. He also learned of Elijah’s affairs with a succession of secretaries and verified the rumors for himself, an astounding crime given that Elijah has sentenced Nation members to years of ‘silence’ if they were found guilty of adultery. It’s clear that he felt his split with the Nation occurred because he had “more faith in Elijah than he had in himself” and because of jealousy at his success.

    And, much like a small bittersweet cayenne chocolate truffle for dessert, there is a final, bittersweet end. As Malcolm makes his break and continues to dialogue more and more with world leaders, he ends up embracing a more traditional form of Islam that embraced the brotherhood of man. Unfortunately, word comes that the Nation would really prefer him dead, and his interviews make it clear it is weighing on his mind at the same time he is trying to provide for his family.

    I found the entire book a meal worth hours and hours of digestion. There's so much here.

    As all auto/biographies, I struggle with ratings. This is easily a dense, fulfilling read that I’d recommend to anyone in America. Political moments happening today have their genesis in that period, and Malcolm X provides a number of fascinating angles to the discussion. Still, autobiographies are the stories we tell about ourselves, so I can’t help wishing for even more context. I do think he showed unusual ability to connect early events in his life to perceptions and viewpoints later, yet he seemed to remain hamstrung by his views on women and on other races. Even more, I can’t help wishing he had lived longer so that we could have seen how his philosophies continued to evolve. It’s the kind of book that sends me down the rabbit holes of history, trying to understand more about this fascinating man and his thinking.

    Review with links and great pictures at

    because it's too effing much work to html after writing.

  • Sean Barrs the Bookdragon

    The voice of Malcolm X was powerful, unbridled and simply heroic. He is one of the most quotable men of the twentieth century:

    The voice of Malcolm X was powerful, unbridled and simply heroic. He is one of the most quotable men of the twentieth century:

    One of the strongest realisations Malcolm X had was learning exactly who he was. As a political figure, his rhetoric was extraordinary. But I will get to this much later in this lengthy review, for now though looking at his childhood experience helps to understand what shaped him.

    As a young black man in America, he was a man without a sense of true identity. His African roots, though still in his blood, were far from evident in his people. The culture he existed in is comparable to a murky mirror. Very much in the vein of Franz Fannon’s

    , Malcolm realised that the black folk acted like puppets; the way they thought, and the way they behaved, was nothing short of extreme social conditioning. They were indoctrinated with this idea, this idea that the white man was better; thus, they tried to become white, by adopting white culture, rather than finding their own true sense of self. And this is exactly what he addressed in his later arguments after his lessons under Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.

    However, some of his earlier experiences show the powers at play directly. The young Malcolm experienced it all. When at school studying history, the history of the “negro” was condensed down into a single paragraph in a Western textbook. Let me say that again, one paragraph. That’s it, an entire history of a people summarised by a few sentences. Simply put, the history of the black man, at least according to the white man here, didn’t exist until he arrived in Africa with his slave boats. He had no history before enslavement, and this is what these children were taught at school. Chinua Achebe come eat your heart out. Ignorance like this is why he wrote

    . Malcolm was later told by another teacher that he could not become a lawyer because of his skin colour. It’s these kinds of rejections that planted the seeds of anger in his heart.

    First though, before he would begin to walk his path, he would make a series of mistakes. I could hear the sorrow in his voice as I read some of the words here. When he was a very young man he broke a girl’s heart, an experience that set her on a downward spiral. You could say it ruined her life. He bought into this idea that white is better and left her for all the prestige a white partner could bring him. All in all, the young Malcolm, as he puts it, was “deaf, blind and dumb” as he walked away from a woman who clearly loved him. He would make even more mistakes as he got older. He became a hustler and a drug pusher, then later a house breaker. He was surrounded by a world of violence. Few make it to old age in such a life, so he had only two possible exists: death or prison.

    But who is to blame? I call these mistakes, but the reality of the situation is that they were merely pitfalls. When Malcolm entered prison, it was only because the situation created by the white man lead him to the cell.

    And at this moment in his life, arguable the lowest, when he sat in a prison cell bored to tears and full of rage; he realised what true power was and where he could get it: books.

    He learnt to read, and did it so often he gained his trademark glasses. After hearing the words of Elijah Muhammad, filtered through his brother’s mouth, Malcolm came to understand the evils of western society. He had become what the white man wanted him to be, so he changed rapidly. He transformed himself drastically. He learnt his full history- that of the African American and then what he could of the African. He embraced Muslim faith, slowly at first, but when he did he became incensed with the clarity it gave his mind. Christianity, for him, became nothing more than a mode of control the white man used on the blacks. It forced them to their knees and made them worship a white god. He wanted no part of it.

    When he got out of prison he quickly became one of the most important men in The Nation of Islam. He converted hundreds, and gave many speeches to the press. He was second only to their leader. He worked diligently for twelve years, and then was ungracefully thrown out.

    He didn’t. He never did. He would have died for the nation. He was forced to leave because the leader was jealous and afraid of him- even after he continued to serve him after he found out about his hypocrisy. Simply put, Malcolm put all his faith into a false bastion, twelve years of faith, and he still had the strength to carry on afterwards. He did not let it destroy him. He truly was a great man.

    But what of all his hate? Malcolm hated the white man. And from this power he drew his early success. His hate was justified, but it was very generalised. The white man committed terrible crimes in history, but it was also the general man on the street that would stick his nose up in the air and act superior on a day to day basis that would get Malcolm angry. It was out there. It kept happening, but this doesn’t mean that was all that was out there. There were genuine white people who felt as Malcolm did, and perhaps they could have helped each other. But, that being said, I’m not sure he would have been as successful had his hate been tempered at the start. As he once said:

    “So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”

    He needed the white man to know why he hated him.

    Malcolm X did wonders for black pride in America; he did wonders for the civil rights movement despite his hatred, but the true tragedy is we will never know how much more he could have done. When he was assassinated, he was at the peak of his intellect; he was at a moment where he realised that hatred wasn’t necessarily the answer. After he became a full Muslim, in the traditional sense, after his pilgrimage to Mecca, he realised that Allah should have been his true guide not the false Elijah Mohamed. He was ready to face the world, this time himself. He was ready to throw his true heart out there. He’d learnt from his experience as The Nation’s number two Muslim, and he was going to put his ideas into practice. But he was cut short, and the world weeps. He is often criticised for his hatred, but rarely recognised for what he became in the end. We will never know how far he could have gone with his Muslim Mosque Inc group. Could he have rivalled The Nation of Islam? Could he have sped up black rights even further? We shall never know, and that is why his potential was wasted. He always knew he would die by violence, and perhaps as he grew older he would have developed even further.

    Malcolm X is a contentious figure even today, but he is a man who must be studied to be understood. Hearing his words, his anger, is not enough. We need to know where it came from and why it was born. This autobiography is honest, brutal and, above all, simply an outstanding piece of writing. There’s so much to be gained from reading this.

  • Wes Morgan

    This is the life story of Malcolm Little, later Malcolm X, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. As are most white people in this country, I was led to believe that Malcolm X was just an angry, militant racist who wanted to kill white people in the same way that angry, militant racists in the South want to kill black people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    This book, more than any other I've read, opened my eyes to see how the innate racism in our country works and affects the people it is mos

    This is the life story of Malcolm Little, later Malcolm X, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. As are most white people in this country, I was led to believe that Malcolm X was just an angry, militant racist who wanted to kill white people in the same way that angry, militant racists in the South want to kill black people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    This book, more than any other I've read, opened my eyes to see how the innate racism in our country works and affects the people it is most sharply targeted at: African Americans. It's one thing to understand that it exists (amazing that this is still debated) and empathize with its victims, but quite another to see it through their eyes. Malcolm X, as he points out, grew up in the "tolerant" North. His battle was not with lynch mobs and Jim Crow laws, but with the death-by-a-thousand-cuts brand of racism that, I would argue, now constitutes the mainstream dynamic between blacks and whites in this country.

    By the time he becomes a Muslim in prison, it's easy to see why he was angry (which he was) and why he fought back. The amazing thing, though, is that while the very book was being written, Malcolm X is undergoing a personal transformation that is leading him away from anger and hatred towards white people and towards a realization that it is the culture in America, and not inherent evil in white people, that creates the racism he's fighting against. This transformation costs him 12 years of his life's work, his house, his family's safety, and eventually his life.

    There are aspects of Malcolm X's philosophy that I cannot empathize with, however. His view of women, in particular, represents an ironic denial of their humanity. You almost want to scream at the pages, "How can you not see that you're viewing women the same way white people view you!?" There are also some pretty strange religious ideas held by the Black Muslims in general (such as literally believing that white people are the devil, and we know it), but Malcolm ends up moving away from these by the end of his life in favor of more orthodox Islam as practiced by the majority of the world's Muslims.

    I now believe, after having read this autobiography, that had he lived longer, Malcolm X would today be as revered as Martin Luther King, Jr. is. Ozzie Davis, Malcolm X's eulogist, said that he sometimes needed reminding that he was a man (something he suspected white people didn't need), and that Malcolm X did that for him, and for many other black people as well.

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