Malcolm X, a smalltime street hustler who made it big first as a fiery apostle of racial antagonism in the Nation of Islam and then as a promoter of Black Power and pan-Africanism after his conversion to orthodox Sunni Islam, remains a key figure in the development of African American politics today. Marable performs a signal service in providing a fresh look at the man and replacing the simplified version of his life presented in The Autobiography of Malcolm X with a more complex and accurate portrait. Marable asserts that the real life of Malcolm X was sadder and more complicated than the airbrushed version Malcolm’s collaborator, the journalist Alex Haley, put forth in the posthumously completed autobiography. What emerges from Marable’s book is the story of an angry young man’s desperate quest for a legitimate and powerful father figure in a hostile world. (Malcolm’s own father was likely killed by white vigilantes.) Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam was Malcolm’s first father-hero; African politicians such as Moise Tshombe and Kwame Nkrumah filled the void when Muhammad was found wanting. Malcolm himself remains a compelling figure, even as the causes to which he devoted himself become less relevant; Marable’s thoughtful and well-written book helps one understand why.
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