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What I’m Reading Now: “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”

The audiobook I’ve been listening to on my commute – and every other chance I get – is Dr. Manning Marable’s riveting biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. I’m over two-thirds of the way through the book. I’m at the point in Malcolm’s life when he was been pushed out of the Nation of Islam, he has completed the Hajj to Mecca, and he has just formed the secular Organization of Afro-American Unity. There have been so many striking things about the book, I’m not sure where to begin. But I’ll make a three brief observations.

1. Going into this book, I knew embarrassingly little about Malcolm X. Not only have I never read Malcolm’s autobiography, I haven’t seen the Spike Lee biopic…yet.

2. Malcolm was a leader, but he was also a follower. For years, he willingly submitted himself to his mentor and spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad, even when Malcolm began to learn how truly flawed Muhammad was. (Malcolm reached a breaking point, however, and rightly so.) He never seemed interested in wealth or fame or power for his own end. Malcolm X didn’t lack for confidence, but there was an admirable humility there too.

3. Maybe I’m being swayed by Dr. Marable’s thesis – his subject’s “life of reinvention” – but I’m struck by how “in process” Malcolm X was. His was a mind always at work. When he was assassinated at the age of 39, that process was cut short. A great loss.

Even as I wrap up this book, Malcolm X remains a complicated figure for me. He seemed adept at diagnosing the illness in the soul of America, the heart disease of racism. But I have rarely agreed with Malcolm’s remedies – or at least the remedies he often called for publicly in his first 38 years: violence, vengeance, and separation. It’s understandable why he would reach these conclusions, but I still can’t agree with them. And yet, along with all of the other changes in the last year of his life, Malcolm seemed to be rethinking remedies too. That process was cut short too.

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2 comments on “What I’m Reading Now: “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”

  1. […] recent biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. (I wrote a bit about the Marable book here and here.) I am now approximately four-fifths of the way through Eric Metaxas’s biography of […]

  2. […] recent biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. (I wrote a bit about the Marable book here and here.) I am now approximately four-fifths of the way through Eric Metaxas’s biography of […]

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