Of the great figures in 20th-century American history, perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. He empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death, he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.
... revealing and prodigiously researched ... vividly chronicles these many incarnations of his subject, describing the 'multiple masks' he donned over the years, while charting the complex and contradiction-filled evolution of his political and religious beliefs ... This volume does not provide much psychological insight into why Malcolm X became such a protean figure, and it lacks the urgency and fierce eloquence of Malcolm X’s own Autobiography. Still, Mr. Marable artfully strips away the layers and layers of myth that have been lacquered onto his subject’s life — first by Malcolm himself in that famous memoir, and later by both supporters and opponents after his assassination in 1965 at the age of 39 ... One of the many achievements of this biography is that Mr. Marable manages to situate Malcolm X within the context of 20th-century racial politics in America without losing focus on his central character ... At the same time Mr. Marable provides a compelling account of Malcolm X’s split with the Nation of Islam ... There is one ill-considered effort in these pages to rationalize Malcolm X’s violent rhetoric in his Nation of Islam days ... For the most part in this book, however, Mr. Marable takes a methodical approach to deconstructing Malcolm X’s complex legacy.
... absorbing and well-written, passionate but painstakingly evenhanded in its explication of a figure who was evolving when he was cut down by assassins at age 39. Most importantly, Marable gives Brother Malcolm the scholarly, almost Shakespearean consideration that's long overdue. Like all good biographies, this means getting behind the myths both good and bad ... fills in the blanks with information gleaned from research and government files and extensive interviews with people close to Malcolm ... The resulting portrait is that of a man not distorted but more dynamic than we realized, in evolution at every point in his brief but exceptional public life ... Reinvention's most revealing moments are not necessarily dramatic but more day-to-day ... While the book charts Malcolm's journey of self-discovery with clear admiration, it also says that it took him a bit too long to come around.
... a groundbreaking piece of work ... The result is not just a biography, but also a history of Muslims in America and a sweeping account of one man’s transformation — and of the conspiracy, abetted by police inattention, that took his tumultuous life. The tension toward book’s end — when Malcolm was trying to figure out who might murder him — is so gripping it nearly soaks through the pages ... Marable does not shy away from Malcolm X’s repugnant statements and actions ... Marable challenges Malcolm’s autobiography but offers no real surprises ... Marable works the reinvention motif into the book with authority ... My only criticism of the book is that Marable did not tell us enough about Malcolm’s family in the years following his death ... It will be difficult for anyone to better this book. It goes deeper and richer than a mere homage to Malcolm X. It is a work of art, a feast that combines genres skillfully: biography, true-crime, political commentary. It gives us Malcolm X in full gallop, a man who died for his belief in freedom, a man whom Marable calls the 'fountainhead' of the black power movement in America.