Apr 27, 2006

Book review: Malcolm X: Autobiography

Malcolm X's autobiography (I listened to the audio book), is a very interesting piece of work - and MUCH more informative than the movie, but is also incomplete. The book leaves you with more questions about the history of Blacks in America, Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X himself than before reading it. Alex Haley's integrity, the co-author and editor and publisher of the the autobiography, is put under question because of his own agenda (pro-integrationist and pro-civil rights, the opposite of Malcolm X's early thought), and his relationship with the FBI. Furthermore, Haley has intentionally omitted 3 chapters of the book that are supposed to shed much more light on Malcolm's ideas during his last years. Unfortunately these chapters are still not publicly available (see Dr. Manning Marable's interview). I'm looking forward to Dr. Marable's biography of Malcolm X, which is due in the next few years.

Besides all that, the book is a GREAT read, and I have few thoughts about it:

1- Malcolm was an exceptional genius - he's one of those people who would have become Nobel Prize laureate if it wasn't for the circumstances. If Malcolm were to be born into a normal family of this age, he would have went to top schools and did great things. Just imagine what would have happened if Einstein was forced to leave school at age 15 and go live in the ghetto. That was Malcolm. Want proof? obvious things first: he was top of his class by end if junior-high. More, just read or listen to one of his speeches. Can you believe that this guy has finished ONLY 9th grade!? Malcolm was able to re-educate himself while in prison. He did so all by himself. He finished several long-distance courses, one of which was in Latin. Listening to him, one thinks he's a university graduate. Attaining that on your own while in prison... is very impressive. Another indication: his amazing success first as a drug dealer, and then, after conversion, to expanding the Nation of Islam following massively. I would love to see an educated IQ estimate for him.

2- The book paints a GREAT picture of the average African American's life in the ghettos and on the streets. The book does a much greater job than the movie on this point.

3- For example Drugs: I've always asked myself, how can somebody become a drug dealer. It seems so hard and a really big deal, at the same time, the kind of characters who do it seem so average - or even below-average. Malcolm describes in the book how he moved from using drugs, to selling them, to even creating an inter-state base of clientele, and finally the head of an armed-robbery gang, all while he was UNDER 20 years of age. 20 YEARS!!!

4- Nation of Islam (NOI) had a different interpretation of prophethood than mainstream muslims. They believe in a modern prophet, Elijah Mohammad, who learned Islam from W. D. Fard, who in turn claimed that he was God's incarnation on Earth. I say "had" and not "have" because I know they have changed afterward, however, I don't know how much.

5- One of the funny quotes from Elijah Mohammad, explaining why Muslims shouldn't eat pig, is "A pig is a graph between rat, cat, and dog." hm...

6- Charisma: I've learned about the gift of Charisma, but never met a person who had it. Not just affluence or influence, but great Charisma. I've heard that Steve Jobs, Clinton, and King Hussein had it. The story I usually get is that, in their presence, people feel like "water in their hands - they can tell you to do anything and you would do it." Malcolm X must have been one of those few people. His ability to 'feel' the crowd and say just the right words is amazing. He was the Nation of Islam dynamo. His job was to go to new cities, establish a Nation of Islam following, build a mosque, and then move on to the next city. Some claim that Nation of Islam was Malcolm X, and with his death, it became dormant.

7- The big picture of history: now I really want to read more about African American history in the US. I want to know exactly, and from an unbiased observer, what was Malcolm's real role with Nation of Islam? What happened to the 'orthodox muslims' organization he left behind? what was his relation to the civil rights movement? how did it go after his assassination? Is there a 'new Malcolm X' out there? people who accept Malcolm X's thought, where are they now? what are they doing?

I hope to find a worthy book to read on the subject... and then I would write another book review blog.


  1. Quite interesting. Enjoyed the read.

    But it wasnt really clear to me if he did persue some of the NOI the ideas or not after he left them.Since they did sound a bit absurd, especially that the mentor of Elijah thought of hismelf as Allah incarnated!

    And if he didnt what path did he take?

  2. Welcome Ohoud, and thanks for the nice comment. I didn't realize that I didn't talk about his later years.

    Malcolm X, after making Hajj in 1974, changed a lot of his ideas. Main changes:
    1- He believed that mainstream Islam is the right choice for American Muslims.
    2- He believed that intergration (people of different colors coming together) is possible.
    3- He actually started working more with the intergrationist leaders (followers of Martin Luther King).

    however, he was assassinated before he had the chance to make these new stances very clear. I don't know what happened to "New York Mosque Incorporated", his organization, after his death.

    From the little I heard, I know that Wallace Muhammad, son of Elijah Muhammad, converted to mainstream Islam and united his organization with mainstream muslims. however, I don't know the details.

  3. Arrabi,

    A minor correction. Malcolm would have made the Hajj in 1964, not 1974, since he was assasinated in the mid sixties.

    Have you seen the biographical film, "X"?

  4. I am shocked on how a person like Malcolm X could possibly be so mainstream and have so many fans ! Through the book he progressively gets worst and worst. He started out as a regular street thug, he then moved on to be a crazy racist leader and then ended up being an outright islamic fundamentalist ! How can the mainstream possibly condone this book ? I am stating this from the viewpoint of a very liberal perspective. This book is only slightly better than Mein Kampf. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are real heroes for black rights, Malcolm X, on the otherhand, was a dangerous idealogue.