The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the story of one of the remarkable lives of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, as presented in this as-told-to autobiography, is a figure of almost mythic proportions; a man who sunk to the greatest depths of depravity and rose to become a man whose life's mission was to lead his people to freedom and strength. It provides a searing depiction of the deeply rooted issues of race and class in America and remains relevant and inspiring today. Malcolm X's story would inspire Alex Haley to write Roots, a novel that would, in turn, define the saga of a people.
Malcolm Little was born in Nebraska in 1925, the seventh child of Reverend Earl Little, a Baptist minister, and Louise Little, a mulatto born in Grenada to a black mother and a white father. Malcolm X quickly grew to hate the society he'd grown up in. After his father was killed, his mother was unfairly denied insurance coverage and his family fell apart. Young Malcolm went from a foster home to a reformatory, to shining shoes in the speakeasies and dance halls of Boston. After getting work as a Pullman porter, he went to New York and fell in love with Harlem. His stint as a drug dealer and petty crook landed him in jail, where he became a devout student of the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad. That was when he figured out that "he could beat the white man better with his mind than he ever could with a club." Malcolm X's subsequent quest for knowledge and equality for blacks led to his unreserved commitment to the liberation of blacks in American society.
What makes this book extraordinary is the honesty with which Malcolm presents his life: Even as he regrets the mistakes he made as a young man, he brings his zoot-suited, swing-dancing, conk- haired Harlem youth to vivid life; even though he later turns away from the Nation of Islam, the strong faith he at one time in that sect's beliefs, a faith that redeemed him from prison and a life of crime, comes through. What made the man so extraordinary was his courageous insistence on finding the true path to his personal salvation and to the salvation of the people he loved, even when to stay on that path meant danger, alienation, and death.
A movement might emerge shorn of racism, seperatism, and blind hate which yet preserved the explosive force and liberating energy of the Muslim myth. This is the direction in which Malcolm X was moving for a year or more before his death. The essense of the this shift was psychological. It had nothing to do with black supremacy, but much to do with manhood and self-reliance. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, September 1966
Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will.”—Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father
“A great book . . . Its dead level honesty, its passion, its exalted purpose, will make it stand as a monument to the most painful truth.”—The Nation
“The most important book I’ll ever read, it changed the way I thought, it changed the way I acted. It has given me courage I didn’t know I had inside me. I’m one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were changed for the better.”—Spike Lee
While critics still debate the role Alex Haley played in the writing of this 1965 book, its importance is irrefutable. With Haley’s assistance, Malcolm X described a world of broken promises, injustice, and hatred from which he wanted his race to escape. Many social reformers and militants have been inspired by this dramatic story. (LJ 6/15/90)
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