The Autobiography of Malcolm X
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158 of 167 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2001
The Autobiography of Malcolm X belongs on the short-list of any compilations of best biographies/autobiographies for two reasons. First, the fact that among all the public figures that American history has to offer, Malcolm is undoubtedly one of the most complex. Secondly, Alex Haley does an amazing job of transporting the reader into Malcolm's thoughts and feelings. Praise of this book is not simply praise of the subject; this is also a powerful literary work and a sharp piece of history.
Autobiography is a classic American tale of one of the most misunderstood figures in American history. Malcolm has been and is viewed as everything from an evil racist hate-monger to the champion of modern day militant pro-Black radicals. What he was, in reality, was a remarkably intelligent and charismatic leader who reflected the ills of the society around him, changed throughout his life, and gradually evolved from ignorance to anger to enlightenment. Autobiography should be required reading for anyone who claims to have an opinion on Malcolm.
My strong recommendation is not simply praise for Malcolm; certainly it would be possible to write an uninteresting book on a compelling figure. My recommendation for this particular biography comes for the power and precision of Alex Haley's writing. Haley puts us in Malcolm's schoolroom, amongst the petty criminals of his youth, in the penitentiary, amongst the militants of the Nation of Islam, and in Mecca and Africa, where he underwent his final transformation. We see what Malcolm sees, and we feel what Malcolm feels. This is a critically important element in the success of this amazing biography. Malcolm started as an empty vessel into which the American Black experience was poured - with all of the racism and violence that this implies - and Malcolm reflected his experiences in his convictions and deeds. In that Haley brings the reader face to face with Malcolm's experiences we understand how and why Malcolm became the person that he became; he truly was a mirror to American society.
The great tragedy is that Malcolm's rift with the Nation of Islam brought resulted in his early death, just at the time that he was realizing his true purpose. Commenting on his experience in Mecca, shortly before his assassination, Malcolm comments "I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color." In this statement, and others, he acknowledges that his former view on race was merely a reflection of the American racism which surrounded him, and these are the views that he had internalized.
I'm actually not sure whether to call this book a biography or an autobiography. It's a purely first-person tale, but as a literary work Haley shines. Either way, the mark of a great autobiography/biography is that it allows you to understand the subject - his or her thoughts and motives. This is a daunting task for a subject as complex as Malcolm, and this book brings it off brilliantly. Very highly recommended.
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68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2010
Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

Pages: 466

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: I must have purchased this book in 2001 or 2002, so about 7 or 8 years.

Days spent reading it: 10 days.

Why I read it: During college I wrote a report in my Intro to Islam class about Black Muslims. In writing that report I discovered that Malcolm X started off with a deviant form of Islam, but after his trip to Mecca he began to change his views about Islam and also his views on hating all "white devils." I picked up this book because I was interested in Malcolm X's life after writing that report.

Brief review: Wow. This book was not what I expected at all. Reading this autobiography was more compelling than I could have imagined. I was engaged in Malcolm's life from start to finish. Starting with his street hustler days in Harlem, to his conversion to Islam (as preached by Elijah Muhammad) in prison, to his break with Elijah Muhammad, to his pilgrimage to Mecca, and ending with his assassination, this book was informative and entertaining.

A few things I found most interesting about Malcolm's life. First, Malcolm X was full of hatred for what the "white devil" had done to the black man. He saw injustice, called white men out on it, and sought to fix the situation. While I do not agree with his militant tactics, I respect his unflagging devotion to righting centuries of wrongs. Second, I find his change after his trip to Mecca as completely astonishing. He completely transformed his views. He stopped saying all white men were the devil. He started pointing to the system that oppressed, and that many white men perpetuated. It is a fascinating study to look at how drastically he changed in those last few months of his life. One certainly wonders, if he had not been killed, how his new views would have changed his approach to civil rights. Third, I was impressed by the scope of the story. Malcolm's self commentary on his life ends just a few days before he was killed. Alex Haley does a wonderful job of telling the story about the rest of his life. The account of his death is simply compelling to read. I was hooked to the very end.

I think this was one of the most important books that I have read on my list. I certainly do not agree with many of Malcolm X's views (especially the young, belligerent Malcolm). But by reading this book, I can enter his world. I can understand the pain. I can begin to understand why Malcolm was so passionate about his cause. I can begin to see how important the civil rights movement was for black Americans. And I can see how far we still have to go. We still have racism in America. Even if some of it is hidden, it is still in the American system. I think America has come a long way, but this book challenges me to look deep into my own heart and see if there are prejudices that I need to eliminate. It is not always pretty.

Malcolm X lived a life very different from my own. I am glad that I read his autobiography because it helped me to understand his radically different life more than I did before. I would highly recommend reading this book. It is enlightening and challenging and different than what I expected. Well worth the time it took to read.

Favorite quote: I told him, "What you are telling me is that it isn't the American white man who is a racist, but it's the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racists psychology in the white man." He agreed.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Provocative.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2013
Let me be crystal clear and extremely frank in this review. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is my FAVORITE book and, I believe, one of the most important books written in the 20th Century. There have been many printings of this book and they have had slight alterations throughout their publishing. The original 1965 edition came with photos. There have always been three missing chapters that are still held by a private owner. However, Penguin Modern Classics has reprinted this essential piece of literature anew-WITHOUT THE ORIGINAL EPILOGUE or Ossie Davis' contributions to the work. This means, essentially, THAT THE ASSASSINATION HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE BOOK! Reading this version of the book will leave the reader wondering how Malcolm was assassinated, who was responsible and so forth. In addition, the first page of the book is a generalizing synopsis that has the audacity to claim that Malcolm advocated change through the vehicle of violence. Anyone who has read the complete Malcolm X Autobiography in depth knows fully well that this is untrue, an absolute falsity and misrepresentation that can lead to dangerous miscalculations. Omitting the Epilogue, for a topic this serious, is not only censorship, but one must conclude that it was done intentionally. If it was done intentionally, the only real motive could be to mislead a new generation of people trying to learn THE TRUTH about Malcolm. It's a shame that they won't be able to find all of it in his own book!
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76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
I am not a racist in any form whatever. I don't believe in any form of racism. I don't believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. -Malcolm X
This was the final triumph of Malcolm X and the resolution that makes his life story into a classic American tale: that in the end, he was able to move beyond the chrysalis of his racial hatred and emerge an integrated enlightened being. I'm sure most everyone has either read this book or seen Spike Lee's excellent biopic, so we need not rehash the story too thoroughly. Anyway, what matters are the essentials. Malcolm Little was a street punk when he was exposed to the Nation of Islam in prison. This exposure, and the racial pride and anger that went with it, lead him to educate himself and get involved with the Nation, where he became one of the most effective spokesmen and organizers. A confrontational proponent of racial separatism and black self-reliance, during the Civil Rights struggle, he was yin to Martin Luther King's yang (or as I read somewhere, he was the Old Testament figure, King was a figure from the New)--the constant reminder to whites that if King's nonviolent methods failed to produce results, millions of righteously resentful young black men were waiting in the wings. But, when Malcolm X made a hadj to Mecca, he discovered that there were Moslems of all races, worshipping together peacefully, and that racism played no part in traditional Islam. And so, in the closing days of his life, he split from the Nation of Islam, adopting true Islamic beliefs and practices and earning the enmity of Nation leaders who had him assassinated. The arc of this story--from the gutter, to a redemptive anger, to a cleansing understanding, to violent death--is like something from Greek myth or Shakespeare, but it is a uniquely American tragedy.
I remember, as a kid, it was truly this easy: Martin Luther King was a good black guy; Malcolm X was a bad black guy. Upon reflection, I think that, even at his most inflammatory, Malcolm X defied this easy categorization. Who is to say that if he & the Black Panthers hadn't been willing to hold out at least the threat of violence, that whites would have moved to solve the Civil Rights issues as quickly (relatively speaking) as they did? More importantly, suppose the shoe was on the other foot, if you were a young black man in 1960's America, whose message would have had more appeal, Martin's or Malcolm's?
Actually, I have often wondered if black America might have been better served by a more violent tone to the struggle. Civil disobedience works precisely because it depends on the fundamental decency of the oppressor and the certainty that he will yield. But one result of the yielding party's giving in, is that they can end up imbued with a sense of their own magnanimity and sink into a deceptive mood of self congratulation. It might be better for the oppressed if there was more of a sense that they had taken what was theirs, rather than that it was given to them. I don't truly know.
Of course, the ultimate historic irony is that King, the peacemaker and accommodationist, was gunned down by a racist white man, while Malcolm, the rabble rouser and confrontationalist, was killed by rival blacks. Reading his life story, it is hard not to believe that Malcolm X's career was really just beginning. It seems possible, even likely, that the inner peace he had found in the true Moslem religion would have given him the moral and spiritually grounding which, combined with his oratorical gifts and incisive intellect, might have lead him to accomplish great things.
Martin Luther King is justly celebrated; he is an easy hero for white America to embrace. Malcolm X is more problematic, he has sharper edges, but is no less deserving of admiration and honor. His life story belongs on the shelf with Benjamin Franklin and Booker T. Washington and Whittaker Chambers and the other handful of great American autobiographies of self made men.
GRADE: A+
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2002
I was shocked when I looked up this book on Amazon and found it not in print, and with only three reviews posted. Then I clicked on the paperback version and found 117 reviews...that's more like it. The book made Malcolm X nationally famous, but not in time to save him from assassination by fellow "Black Muslims" who resented Malcolm's disenchantment with Elijah Muhammad, founder of the movement. It also made Alex Haley, the "as told to" writer, renown. What it did for me was to make me much less of a racist than I was before I read it...This book, along with "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and "Stride Toward Freedom" by MLK, were vital steps in my move away from mindless racism. I also credit the singing of Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, and the tv news accounts of the civil rights protests in Alabama and Mississippi from 1962-64. But this book is special. I've read it three times. Spike Lee did a good job on the movie, but it doesn't replace the book. If you care about the history of the civil rights struggle, you must read it. Even if you don't, Malcolm's life journey is fascinating and inspiring. He made sense, and his presence scared us whiteys into giving Martin the victories he needed. Without Malcolm X, the "non-violent" wing of the movement would have had a much harder time.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I remember, as a kid, it was truly this easy: Martin Luther King was a good black guy; Malcolm X was a bad black guy. Upon reflection, I think that, even at his most inflammatory, Malcolm X defied this easy categorization. Who is to say that if he & the Black Panthers hadn't been willing to hold out at least the threat of violence, that whites would have moved to solve the Civil Rights issues as quickly (relatively speaking) as they did? More importantly, suppose the shoe was on the other foot, if you were a young black man in 1960's America, whose message would have had more appeal, Martin's or Malcolm's?
Actually, I have often wondered if black America might have been better served by a more violent tone to the struggle. Civil disobedience works precisely because it depends on the fundamental decency of the oppressor and the certainty that he will yield. But one result of the yielding party's giving in, is that they can end up imbued with a sense of their own magnanimity and sink into a deceptive mood of self congratulation. It might be better for the oppressed if there was more of a sense that they had taken what was theirs, rather than that it was given to them. I don't truly know.
Of course, the ultimate historic irony is that King, the peacemaker and accommodationist, was gunned down by a racist white man, while Malcolm, the rabble rouser and confrontationalist, was killed by rival blacks. Reading his life story, it is hard not to believe that Malcolm X's career was really just beginning. It seems possible, even likely, that the inner peace he had found in the true Moslem religion would have given him the moral and spiritually grounding which, combined with his oratorical gifts and incisive intellect, might have lead him to accomplish great things.
Martin Luther King is justly celebrated; he is an easy hero for white America to embrace. Malcolm X is more problematic, he has sharper edges, but is no less deserving of admiration and honor. His life story belongs on the shelf with Benjamin Franklin and Booker T. Washington and Whittaker Chambers and the other handful of great American autobiographies of self made men.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1999
I first read this book while writing a term paper in college. I had to pick an autobiography, and since the Spike Lee movie had just come out, I chose this one.
I went in open minded, as a young white man, whose ideas differed on some points from the man himself. No matter what your views on Malcolm X, or what he stood for, READ THIS BOOK. You will be better for it
You will gain an understanding of why the man was who he was, and insight into the type of person he truly was. I always understood him to be a person who was full of rage and hate toward all who were not like him, but I was wrong.
Haley did an excellent job, as should be expected. I would agree that of the century's novels, this is a must-read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2011
When Malcolm X was a boy, he endured his father's murder by, and his mother losing her sanity from, racist sanctimonious Southern whites. Unsurprisingly, he spent his later life in a quest to resolve the psychological tension of those horrific events. One might say that, by the end of his quest, he had found the Grail.

Malcolm X was largely overshadowed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - at least as I remember it - during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, Malcolm X began veering more toward the universality of King as he matured. For indeed universality is the central Christian message - (Jesus having spent his entire ministry as "an unclean rabbi walking through social taboos like they were cobwebs") - and the central message of Islam, also.

Malcolm X's diagnosis of what's wrong with US culture seems to run thus:

1. The Founding Fathers declared "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". But the reality was that to create the nation the Fathers were forced to permit slavery to survive. Noble ideals notwithstanding, the nation was launched amid institutional hypocrisy. (Fair enough, but it was that or launch no nation at all.)

2. Despite his oath to support and defend the Constitution (and despite President Washington's encouragement to bring native Americans into American society as equals with whites), President Andrew Jackson refused to comply with Chief Justice John Marshall's majority decision in Worcester v. Georgia (1832) that native Americans be treated as equals with European Americans. Noble ideals notwithstanding, the nation was confirmed in institutional hypocrisy. (Entirely true.)

I found it odd that never once does Malcolm X mention the Islamic slave trade in Africa, a black diaspora that began roughly seven centuries before the European-Atlantic slave trade, (see Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora). Slavery was not made illegal on the Arabian Peninsula until 1962 - shortly before Malcolm X's arrival there. I also found it odd Malcolm's ignoring the fact that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were passed by 100% *Caucasian* US congressmen, and that the abolitionist movement was funded and forwarded almost entirely by Caucasians. To this degree, much of Malcolm's sentiments were bootless jeremiads against the inevitable vagaries of human nature: How can you declaim against racism when you are racist yourself?

While I took strong issue with the young Malcolm X's incessant blanket characterization of Caucasians as "devils", I correctly anticipated while reading that as his autobiography progressed he would mature past the blinders of racism. (As an Irish American friend of mine remarked, if he had been born black in this country he would've been a lot angrier than Malcolm X, "the angriest black man in America".) And indeed, Malcolm X eventually acquired a more objective view of humanity.

Frankly, I liked Malcolm X reading this book. I liked him not because his judgment was always sound (it certainly wasn't) nor because his heart was always full of love (it certainly wasn't) but simply because he spoke truth to power and because he was *trying* to do the right thing. Thomas Carlyle's definition of the hero is that "the hero is sincere". By this definition, Malcolm X was heroic. Heroic stories are inspiring.

It is curious to read the printed fire of Malcolm X's words and contrast them with the cool spoken presentations he was quite capable of delivering.

I consider this book essential reading for any American who wants better to understand himself and his culture.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2009
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the intense personal story of the life of Malcolm X. It has been argued that Malcolm X was many things, violent, racist, intelligent, dishonest, admirable and he was all these by his own admission. But that which grabs you in this book is the journey this man took, the turns he made, the thoughts he was introduced to and the ideas he eloquently expressed.

This is the story of a man whose father was murdered for speaking for civil rights, whose mother was committed, who grew up in foster homes and became a thug, a criminal a convict in the first part of his life. In prison he became a student, a scholar of Black history, a minister for Black Islam. Upon his release he becomes the international spokesman for the Black Muslim movement only to discover he had been misled, propagandized and used by his own church in order to mislead and manipulate its followers. He undertook to set things right. He repudiated his mistakes and advocated new approaches for the freedom and personal liberation of African Americans. Malcolm X becomes much more in death than he was in life. He did
not live to see this book in print and predicted it because he challenged the powers of darkness.

The writing of Malcolm assisted by Alex Haley in a compelling style will hook you, involve you.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
Malcolm X is truly a powerful, significant, and essential work for all time. Why? Because you are able to witness how a man suffered from the effects of prejudice and his whole disposition was formed from it. You see how a very angry man stays angry at the "white devils" for most of his life. However, the unique aspect of Malcolm X is that he changed his views towards the end with the realization that his religion and own understanding gave him. This book serves as a learning experience, for one learns not only about racism and a mans struggle with it, but how to listen and read with a open mind. Many people get very offended at what Malcolm says and I can relate. However, your purpose as a reader should not be to judge Malcolm, but just listen to what he has to say, and learn from his experience. Knowledge, insight, and power of personal change are all gained from this story. I cannot stress enough the importance of having his autobiography in your memory. A highly recommended read.
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