A fascinating story and a valuable account of an important 20th century figure. It shows us a driven, disturbed, dynamic young man of tremendous intelligence and resilience which left me wondering what might have been if he had not been murdered before he reached the peak of his powers.
His journey from a (relatively) happy childhood through turbulent adolescence into a man of history is compelling. We learn of the terrible traumas that shaped his life including the break-up of his family following the racist murder of his father and the subsequent (state induced) breakdown of his mother and the belittling career advice he received at school. We follow him through his teen years as a fast living zoot suited novice gangster with his hair suitably “conked” that leads inevitability to jail where he encounters Elijah Muhammad and converts to Islam.
His journey in Islam is fascinating; first he is obsessed with Elijah Mohammed’s teachings which he sees as capturing the struggle of the black man in white supremacist 1950s America then, as his relationship with Elijah deteriorates, he has a further development in his thinking while on the Hajj to Mecca where he experiences people sharing a common cause (Islam) regardless of the colour of the skin.
It’s a shame the book is not particularly well written. I think Haley let down Malcolm X by not using his skills as an author (evident, of course, in Roots) to provide better focus to what Malcolm X is looking to say. What we get instead, particularly in the polemic sections of the book that dominate the second part of the autobiography, is writing that comes across as streams of consciousness. As such it is, at times, repetitive, lacking in clarity and somewhat stodgy to read. You can imagine Malcolm X, in his interviews with Hayley that form the basis of this book, letting rip. That, of itself, is interesting. But it doesn’t make the best reading!
Overall though, I’d put this in the a list of “must read” books for its insight into an important (and fascinating) person at a pivotal time in 20th century American history.