“The Autobiography of Malcolm X was him giving a tour of his life from a boat. Manning Marable’s Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention is Google Earth’s version.” 5 April 2011
Malcolm X is a man that many people knew, and millions more thought (or hoped or wished) they knew. From t-shirts to slogans, his image and words have been used to market music and foment revolutions. Yet, the truth of his life and death have been obscured by his iconic status, the simple broad strokes of bad man turned good much easier to package, market and consume than the flawed, complex, powerful human being he really was.
Manning Marable (and countless others – yes, I even read the acknowledgements) presents, in Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention, the man and the life of Malcolm Little, who was Detroit Red, who was Malcolm X, who was Malik Shabazz, who was El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Marable’s research and scholarship, though, present an individual in the context of his times: detailing the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan, the power of Marcus Garvey, the growth of the Nation of Islam, and then details the and elucidates the gifts which allowed him to navigate successfully, and which ultimately elevated Malcolm beyond. Marable also gives texture to the creation of Malcolm’s political evolution, from apolitical through black separatism to Pan-African revolutionary.
Drawing on years of interviews and access to documents previously unavailable, Marable “solves for X”, raising Malcolm from the moving character at the center of his autobiography to a figure in three dimensions. Reading this book felt like meeting an old friend that I haven’t seen in a while, and catching up with what’s been going on in his life since we last saw each other. I was also struck with how much Malcolm there was in the book, and how much his words resonate in today’s political climate. “United States history is that of a country that does whatever it wants to by any means necessary… but when it comes to your and my interest, then all of this means becomes limited.”
I cannot more highly recommend this book. It is simply a masterwork, both of history and human nature, that I plan on reading several more times. During my first read, I had to stop myself from highlighting! There was so much history, so much context and thematic structure that I didn’t want to let slip through my mind. Having completed my first pass, I’ve grabbed both my highlighter and my notebook, because I refuse to miss the opportunity to learn.
- “Manning Marable’s New Biography Investigates Conflicted Reality of the Civil Rights Leader” and related posts (newblackman.blogspot.com)
- The biographer who shattered Malcolm X myths (cnn.com)
- Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable – review (guardian.co.uk)
- You: Books of The Times: Stripping Away Myth and Finding Multiple Masks (nytimes.com)