The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley – Book Review

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Cover of The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X has been on my To-Read list for years, but I finally picked it up and read it. I am so glad I did. My main thought as I finished it was that the world lost a brilliant man too soon. I wonder at Malcolm’s potential accomplishments and legacy if he had lived a long and full life. So many of the sound bites and blurbs propagated about Malcolm X totally miss the man he was when he was assassinated.

The first half of the book is full of rich details of Malcolm’s upbringing: his precarious childhood, stint in foster care and juvenile reform school, his Lindy Hopping days in Roxbury and Harlem, his never-ending hustle, and his imprisonment. The writing style in this section is simple prose, often written in a passive voice. It was interesting, but not compelling from a literary perspective.

The Malcolm X few got to know

The style issues aside, the book came to life as Malcolm describes his conversion to Islam and his years with The Nation of Islam. His pilgrimage to Mecca is when the book catches fire. The transformation Malcolm underwent during his Hajj was complete. I was amazed to read his words as he reversed course from much of his earlier rhetoric. The world missed out, not getting to experience his leadership after that critical turning point in his life.

The book was dictated in 1964 to Alex Haley and this is a timecapsule to the era. The comments and generalizations about women were off-putting, but prevalent among all male public figures at the time. These comments disturbed me a bit, but did not overall take away from the book.

This book is essential reading for any person wanting to learn more about US history – the history often left out of our formal education.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley, M.S. Handler

From the publisher: Through 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 conversion to true Islam helped him confront his rage and recognize the brotherhood of all mankind. An established classic of modern America, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" was hailed by the New York Times as "Extraordinary. A brilliant, painful, important book." Still extraordinary, still important, this electrifying story has transformed Malcom X's life into his legacy. The strength of his words, the power of his ideas continue to resonate more than a generation after they first appeared.


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