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Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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A Life of Reinvention

missing imageManning Marable was the founder of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University and the author of many books. He died on April 1, 2011.

The Topic: Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are probably the two most recognized black political figures of the 20th century. But now that the United States has an African-American president, has the message of the nonviolent Martin completely eclipsed that of the combative Malcolm? Not as Manning Marable tells it. Drawing upon a bevy of new material and his decades of scholarly experience, Marable's new biography of Malcolm X ties the twists and turns of this short but turbulent life to forces that are still shaping America today.
Viking. 608 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780670022205

Barnes and Noble Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"One might expect that such a careful exegesis of Malcolm X's life would result in the diminishment of his legend, but just the opposite is the case. ... This is history at its finest--written with passion and attention and drive" Adam Bradley

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"While many an author has probed the phenomenon of Malcolm X, his own version of his life, expressed in his own words, has dominated his bibliography. That is until now. With the publication of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable offers a fuller portrait of the minister, the activist, and the man, beautifully advancing our understanding of the accomplishments of this pioneering leader within his own time." Nell Irvin Painter

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[W]ith the publication of Manning Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, the public is being challenged to dismantle the iconography of the ‘black shining prince' and confront Malcolm X as an incredibly complex and at times deeply conflicted figure. ... Malcolm is reimagined as an intellectual and political role model for us all, a man who possessed the courage to put himself at risk consistently in order to better understand the world, in order to make the world better." Imani Perry

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"What ... does this biography offer that is unavailable from the Autobiography? Quite a lot, as it turns out. ... It details the social and political context in which Malcolm lived, shedding light on the extraordinary power of the Ku Klux Klan during Malcolm's childhood, describing the quasi-Islamic organizations that preceded the Nation of Islam, and explaining the beliefs and inner workings of the Nation and of the two organizations that Malcolm founded toward the end of his short life: the Islamic group Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the pan-African Organization for Afro-American Unity." Geoff Wisner

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This volume does not provide much psychological insight into why Malcolm X became such a protean figure (or why he needed to distance ‘his inner self from the outside world'), 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." Michiko Kakutani

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Presenting Malcolm X as far more complicated and flawed than the iconic legend of The Autobiography, Mr. Marable includes a number of uncomfortable details about the black leader's life that were skimmed over or left out of earlier works." Margo Hammond

Critical Summary

Much of the advance press regarding Manning Marable's book has focused on a few of the author's more sensational findings, including material on Malcolm's private life and the conclusion that some of those who participated in the black leader's assassination were likely not brought to justice. It is also difficult to view the book as anything but a capstone to Marable's life, given his recent passing. However, critics found at least two other ways to read the book. First, most saw it as a way of retelling Malcolm X's life for 21st century readers who may not be familiar with the conflicted era in which he lived. Second, they viewed it as a critical companion to his widely read autobiography. Critics disagreed on whether Marable's volume supercedes that work, but that a scholarly title was compared to a book noted for its strong voice and gripping story gives some measure of the title's caliber.