Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book 50: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley



Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

Pages: 466

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime from the Toccoa Falls College library withdrawal pile.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: I must have purchased this book in 2001 or 2002, so about 7 or 8 years.

Days spent reading it: 10 days.

Why I read it: During college I wrote a report in my Intro to Islam class about Black Muslims. In writing that report I discovered that Malcolm X started off with a deviant form of Islam, but after his trip to Mecca he began to change his views about Islam and also his views on hating all "white devils." I picked up this book because I was interested in Malcolm X's life after writing that report.

Brief review: Wow. This book was not what I expected at all. Reading this autobiography was more compelling than I could have imagined. I was engaged in Malcolm's life from start to finish. Starting with his street hustler days in Harlem, to his conversion to Islam (as preached by Elijah Muhammad) in prison, to his break with Elijah Muhammad, to his pilgrimage to Mecca, and ending with his assassination, this book was informative and entertaining.

A few things I found most interesting about Malcolm's life. First, Malcolm X was full of hatred for what the "white devil" had done to the black man. He saw injustice, called white men out on it, and sought to fix the situation. While I do not agree with his militant tactics, I respect his unflagging devotion to righting centuries of wrongs. Second, I find his change after his trip to Mecca as completely astonishing. He completely transformed his views. He stopped saying all white men were the devil. He started pointing to the system that oppressed, and that many white men perpetuated. It is a fascinating study to look at how drastically he changed in those last few months of his life. One certainly wonders, if he had not been killed, how his new views would have changed his approach to civil rights. Third, I was impressed by the scope of the story. Malcolm's self commentary on his life ends just a few days before he was killed. Alex Haley does a wonderful job of telling the story about the rest of his life. The account of his death is simply compelling to read. I was hooked to the very end.

I think this was one of the most important books that I have read on my list. I certainly do not agree with many of Malcolm X's views (especially the young, belligerent Malcolm). But by reading this book, I can enter his world. I can understand the pain. I can begin to understand why Malcolm was so passionate about his cause. I can begin to see how important the civil rights movement was for black Americans. And I can see how far we still have to go. We still have racism in America. Even if some of it is hidden, it is still in the American system. I think America has come a long way, but this book challenges me to look deep into my own heart and see if there are prejudices that I need to eliminate. It is not always pretty.

Malcolm X lived a life very different from my own. I am glad that I read his autobiography because it helped me to understand his radically different life more than I did before. I would highly recommend reading this book. It is enlightening and challenging and different than what I expected. Well worth the time it took to read.

Favorite quote: I told him, "What you are telling me is that it isn't the American white man who is a racist, but it's the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racists psychology in the white man." He agreed.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Provocative.

1 comment:

Rob said...

A good reminder.