- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (December 28, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143120328
- ISBN-13: 978-0143120322
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 272 g
- Customer reviews: Be the first to review this item
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention Paperback – 28 December 2011
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"Malcolm X is etched in the American imagination--and the American psyche--in the particular and unyielding terms of radical and militant... Marable brings a lifetime of study to this biography, which is the crowning achievement of a magnificent career."
-- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University "Manning Marable is the exemplary black scholar of radical democracy and black freedom in our time. His long-awaited magisterial book on Malcolm X is the definitive treatment of the greatest black radical voice and figure of the mid-twentieth century. Glory Hallelujah!"
-- Cornel West, Princeton University "Manning Marable's Malcolm X is his magnum opus, a work of extraordinary rigor and intellectual beauty ... This majestic and eloquent tour de force will stand for some time as the definitive work on as enigmatic and electrifying a leader as has ever sprung from American soil."
-- Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University, author of April 4, 1968 "A superbly written and carefully researched biography of the civil rights icon...I can't recommend it highly enough." -- Laila Lalami, The New York Times "It will be difficult for anyone to better this book... It is a work of art, a feast that combines genres skillfully: biography, true-crime, political commentary. It gives us Malcolm X in full gallop, a man who died for his belief in freedom."
-- The Washington Post "In his revealing and prodigiously researched new biography. . . Mr. Marable artfully strips away the layers and layers of myth that have been lacquered onto his subject's life -- first by Malcolm himself in that famous memoir, and later by both supporters and opponents after his assassination."
-- Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Unlike Bruce Perry's 1991 biography, Malcolm, which entertained the most outlandish stories in an attempt to present a comprehensive portrait, Marable's biography judiciously sifts fact from myth."
-- The Atlantic "Magisterial...Marable's biography is an exceedingly brave as well as a major intellectual accomplishment."
-- Boston Globe "Marable has crafted an extraordinary portrait of a man and his time...A masterpiece."
-- San Francisco Chronicle "This book is a must read."
-- Ebony "Thankfully, we have Manning Marable's new biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention -- which is, simply put, a stunning achievement -- to help us better understand Malcolm's complex life."
-- The Philadelphia Tribune "The book also has much to recommend it for its history of orthodox Islam, the perspective it offers on the black political movements of the 1950s and 1960s that changed America, and its insights into the development and inner workings of the Nation of Islam."
-- The Financial Times "Manning Marable's scholarship was as provocative and profound as it was prodigious."
-- Newsday "[Marable] devoted his magnificent career--more than most scholars do--to living what he wrote and what he thought. His commitment not only to equality of opportunity but also to the exposure of falsehood and hypocrisy was a hallmark of his pathbreaking work."
-- The Chronicle of Higher Education "Marable accomplishes the difficult task of showing the bad boy of the civil rights era as an actual human being . . . Each page almost secretes the formidable research into hard facts. Marable lets the chips fall where they may because he is interested in the humanity of Malcolm X, as all true scholars should be."
-- New York Daily News "This is history at its finest--written with passion and attention and drive. It is a fitting testament to the lives and the legacies of both subject and author."
-- TheBarnesandNobleReview.com "Marable's definitive biography is now the standard by which scholars can evaluate, not just what Malcolm X said, but what generations of others have said about him."
-- The National "This book is not the only representation of Manning's brilliance... it is a culmination of a lifetime of scholarship and activism, a larger project devoted to telling the stories of a people engaged in an epic, painful and beautiful struggle for freedom."
-- BlackVoices.com "This superbly perceptive and resolutely honest book will long endure as a definitive treatment of Malcolm's life, if not of the actors complicit in his death."
-- The Wilson Quarterly "The book is cause for celebration . . . The book is full of revelations, big and small, and amounts to a full-on reconsideration of Malcolm's life and death."
-- VeryShortList.com "As Malcolm lived on through his best-selling autobiography, so will Marable, through his unmatched body of writing, his educational contributions, his illuminations on Malcolm X's legacy and his devoted students."
-- CNN.Com "Manning was an unflinching and breathtakingly prolific scholar whose commitments to racial, economic, gender, and international justice were unparalleled . . . That we will have his long-anticipated, great and final work even as he leaves us is so classically, tragically appropriate."
-- The Nation "While Marable himself is irreplaceable, he has provided a foundation for future generations and will continue to shape our understanding of social change and justice."
-- TheRoot.com "A prolific scholar."
-- The Columbia Record
About the Author
Manning Marable (1951-2011) was M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African American Studies and professor of history and public affairs at Columbia University. He was founding director of African American Studies at Columbia from 1993 to 2003, and directed Columbia's Center for Contemporary Black History. The author of fifteen books, Marable was also the editor of the quarterly journal Souls.
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In contrast to the "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley, Marable claims his "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" includes information on FBI and police surveillance, details from lost chapters that were not included in Haley's book, access to speeches prior to 1950 and more context into Malcolm's activities concerning MMI and OAAU.
I see that this biography has come under criticism for potential inaccuracies. However, it is still a worthy read, as well as the published counter arguments and other biographies. One book or one author is not enough to contain this man and his transformation. It is up to the astute reader to disseminate and fashion together, from all sources, the legacy of Malcolm X.
The book has many strengths. It does an excellent job of situating Malcolm's life and teachings in the broader historical context of his times. I have to note that there seem to be some factual inaccuracies in his discussion of the history of Islam, but on the whole I believe it's reasonably accurate. And the book provides a fuller account of Malcolm's life and death than some of the more hagiographic works written about him. But that valuable accomplishment is overshadowed and diminished by speculation and salacious innuendo that has no place in a scholarly account. Beginning with the opening chapters of the book, Dr. Marable consistently advances speculative theories about malcolm's inner motives and state of mind. This would be reasonable if he consistently qualified his hypotheses as such, and supported them with corroborating evidence. But over and over again, Dr. Marable advances naked speculation as conclusive fact. One the most egregious and controversial examples of this tendency is Dr. Marable's claim that Malcolm was involved in homosexual prostitution as a youth. Given the circumstances of Malcolm's life at that time, that would not be particularly surprising. He would have been neither the first nor the last destitute and drug-addicted youth to prostitute himself to anyone who could offer some ready cash. However, Dr. Marable offers no evidence for the one incident of prostitution that he alleges took place other than hearsay from two of Malcolm's acquaintances that appears in secondary sources. That's far from conclusive, or even persuasive. However, Dr. Marable treats the allegation as practically incontrovertible, despite the admittedly circumstantial evidence supporting the claim. He goes so far as to assert that the alleged incident was a basic element of Malcolm's identity at the time:
"Malcolm-Detroit Red, Satan, hustler, onetime pimp, drug addict and drug dealer, homosexual lover, ladies man, numbers racketeer, burglar, Jack Carlton, and convicted thief. . ."
Whatever Malcolm's sexual habits may or may not have been, Dr. Marable's failure to convincingly support this much-hyped claim smacks of crass sensationalism. Equally troubling is Dr. Marable's habit of psychoanalyzing his subjects and ascribing to them motives that he could not possibly discern and advances no evidence for, claiming for instance that Malcolm subliminally incorporated jazz rhythms into his speaking style, and asserting that the Nation of Islam's success in converting Black prisoners was due to the fact that, "the depression caused by long confinement made inmates particularly vulnerable." Those things may very well be true. And they may very well be false. But true or not, they are without question nothing more than sheer speculation, and represent the author's own assumptions rather than historical fact, or even reasoned argumentation. What is most unfortunate about these speculative digressions is that they are almost wholly tangential to the central events and influences in Malcolm's life, and only serve to distract from the well-documented history that Dr. Marable took such pains to reconstruct.
Added to all of this is a significant amount of critical editorial comment on Malcolm's early beliefs and decisions. Malcolm himself admitted-indeed stressed-in no uncertain terms that his early beliefs were immature, destructive, and uncritically dogmatic. It is unedifying to witness his biographer harangue him nearly 50 years after his death for mistakes that he himself unreservedly confessed to and repented of during his own lifetime.
My personal impression, and it is simply my personal impression, is that out of a desire to be iconoclastic, Dr. Marable perhaps took a degree of creative and editorial license, which is distressing to see in connection with a topic of such deep historical and cultural significance. The book is very valuable as a work of history, but as a historical portrait of a life, it perhaps reflects in some respects too much of the mind of the painter, obscuring to a degree the subject being portrayed.
As an aside, it is extremely difficult to correlate the citations in the copious endnotes with the text being referenced, as the hardback first edition inexplicably omits in-text endnote numbers, which is a significant problem in and of itself.
Despite all this, on the whole the book is a fascinating and lavishly detailed account of Malcolm's meteoric rise and tragic end that deserves close attention. It is regrettable that in chronicling Malcolm's "reinvention", Dr. Marable does some reinventing of his own, but the magnitude of what he accomplished in authoring a comprehensive and meticulously documented account of the entirety of Malcolm's life has to be recognized.
Ultimately, I can only suggest what I imagine Malcolm himself would have advised. Read the book for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
There are gaps. The last half of the book is more reported than analyzed. Marable did a prodigious job assembling a virtually daily record of Malcolm's activities, but you miss the perspective he could have provided on the political ideas as ideas. It's also understandable that Marable was anxious to get out the original work he did on the assassination, but that really takes over the narrative of the last part of the book. And the NOI remains enigmatic throughout: you are given clues to how it operated, nationally and locally, but you have to work to pull them together.
It's well worth searching for online videos as an adjunct to reading this book, as they give you a better sense of Malcolm's style and impact.