Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

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Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention by Manning Marable

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: An immense and meticulously-researched biography of an often misunderstood campaigner. Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X will become required reading for all students of the man and America in the 1960s.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 608 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Allen Lane
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0713998955

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People's preconceptions about Malcolm X are vast. This is no surprise given his dramatic life, untimely death, and subsequent increased fame through the likes of Spike Lee's 1992 film. His autobiography is a must-read for anyone interested in his life, or the tumultuous race struggle in the US in the 1960s, but it must be viewed in context. It was completed after Malcolm X's death, by co-author Alex Haley, and many aspects were highlighted or played down, to suit Malcolm X's ends. Manning Marable's biography, years in the making, looks at his life with a new perspective.

It is meticulously-researched, with a bibliography that could fell a blue whale. It will become definitive reading for students of Malcolm X's life: the depth of understanding about the man and his ideas is immense. It's the perfect time for such an autobiography, too: enough time has passed to allow for unbiased perspective, yet not so much time has passed that too many primary sources are no longer alive. This isn't a cheap muckraking biography, although the suggestion of a homosexual relationship in his Detroit Red days will spark debate. This is a book that strengthens some preconceptions, challenges others, and paints a full and rounded picture of a man whom many people try to understand and appropriate in different ways.

The body of evidence and hard work is the biography's greatest strength, but it's also powerfully written. There are times when conclusions are couched in some reticence, but appropriately so. For example, even now, two of the real killers of Malcolm X are unidentified, and the extent of police or FBI involvement is unknown. Marable doesn't engage in childish conspiracy theories, but he does accurately present what is and isn't known about the day.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is a hefty read and endlessly fascinating, never dragging or failing to be enlightening. We learn of Malcolm X as a fully-rounded person, with contradictions, with evolving ideas, with reinventions. He wasn't just a black supremacist, he wasn't just 'the opposite' of Martin Luther King, he wasn't just the powerful leader idolised by the hip-hop generation. He was a man fighting against great oppression, following an often controversial and often misguided path, yet working tirelessly for the well-being of black people at the culmination of a shameful period of America's past.

Manning Marable died of complications from pneumonia just days before the book's release. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is a legacy to be proud of. You couldn't ask for anything more from a biography; it's a powerful book about a powerful life, and one you should take the trouble to read. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round by Doreen Rappaport is a powerful anthology chronicling the US civil rights movement. It features in our Top Ten Books About America. For another biography of another tireless campaigner for human rights, check out Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams.

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Buy Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable at


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