This is quite simply the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. But I am so glad that I read it.
I knew little to nothing about Malcolm X before reading this book and what I thought I knew was completely wrong. The reason this book was so disturbing was the level of pure evil described therein. Malcolm’s father was brutally murdered by whites when Malcolm was just 6 years old. His mother was sent to an insane asylum by the state, thereby removing her from her children. In his teens, he turned to a life of crime, both selling and taking drugs, “steering” white people to black prostitutes, and robbing houses. He destroyed a girl he liked by ditching her at a dance for a white girl. One of his best friends lures women into prostitution by robbing them and offering them a chance to make the money back. Once he joined the Nation of Islam (NOI), he ascribed to a doctrine that white people were specifically bred on the Island of Patmos to be devils. After the leader of the NOI was found to have committed adultery multiple times, a plan was devised to use the failings of other Biblical leaders to say it was prophetic that this would happen. And at the end of it all, Malcolm predicts his death and in 1965 is gunned down by Nation of Islam members. In one of his greatest regrets in life, he once sent a white girl away from him crying when she asked what she could do to make race relations better and he replied “nothing.”
Yet, despite such an unbelievably traumatic upbringing and life as a hustler, Malcolm X became a new man in prison. He came into contact with the Nation of Islam teaching and it gave him a new outlook and view on life. He also used his time in prison to read. He was once asked by an interviewer what his alma mater was and he replied “books.”
Later in his short life, Malcolm X realized there were problems within the Nation of Islam. The NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad, was committing adultery while punishing anyone else doing the same. Malcolm also took a pilgrimage to Mecca and learned about what he called “true Islam,” which differed quite drastically from the Nation of Islam teaching. He also came into contact with whites who changed his views about all whites being devils. I admired Malcolm’s ability to change his mind and almost immediately tell people about the change.
In the book, Malcolm said he recalled the sordid details of his past in that level of detail so that people could understand his trajectory from there.
This book was ghost-written by Alex Haley, author of the famous Roots series. He conducted multiple in-person and phone interviews with Malcolm X in order to write this book. Mr. Haley wrote an epilogue to this book that was extremely valuable to the autobiography. It described Malcolm’s death (which he had predicted would happen at any time), tied his life together, and described details of their meetings together.
This is an important book to read. Difficult, but important.