Book Review on The Autobiography of Malcolm X

America has a very terrible history starting with the slave trade in the 1600’s. From then until the ratification of the thirteenth amendment in 1865 slaves were legal, and even after that until the 1960’s racial discrimination was prevalent in the United States. Malcolm X was an African American and dealt with the trials or racism. After enduring through difficult parts in his life, he found the Nation of Islam and became a devout follower and preacher of the Nation.

The Autobiogrophy of Malcolm X was told by Malcolm X to Alex Haley. Haley was an African American born in Ithaca New York, and worked for the United States Coast Guard for twenty years. There, he taught himself to write stories. After his time at the Coast Guard he eventually became senior editor for Reader’s Digest. He also conducted interviews for Playboy and co wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He also wrote Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which was published in 1975. k

The Autobiogrophy of Malcolm X is a chronological autobiography telling the story of Malcolm X’s life. It starts with his childhood in Lansing Michigan, where his family was persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan because his father, Reverand Earl Little, was a preaching black power. Eventually, Reverend Little was murdered by the Klan; he was beaten and run over by a train. The life insurance company wouldn’t pay Louise Little, his wife and Malcolm’s mother, because she couldn’t prove that Mr. Little’s death wasn’t suicide. Left impoverished and with five children to feed, Louise slowly lost her sanity as she worked herself to the bone to provide for her family. Growing up in this troubled household, Malcolm was an ill-behaved child and was taken away from his family by the state Welfare. While at school, Malcolm told his teacher, Mr. Ostrowski, that he wanted to be a lawyer. Mr. Ostrowski’s response was this:

“A lawyer—tha’s no realistic goal for a nigger. You need to think about something you can be. You’re good with your hands—making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work. Why don’t you plan on carpentry? People like you as a person—you’d get all kinds of work”(38).

This was the first time that Malcolm was directly discouraged for doing what he wanted to do because he was black. This led him to notice more and more that people treated him differently because of his skin color, and this angered him. During this time he was writing to his step sister, Ellen, in Boston, and she invited him to live with her. While in Boston, Malcolm became drawn to “The sharp-dressed young ‘cats’ who hung on the corners and in the poolrooms, bars and restaurants, and who obviously didn’t work anywhere”(45). He later became one of these “cats” himself, getting his hair “conked” and becoming a very successful hustler. He moved to Harlem in New York City and became an even bigger hustler. He also became addicted to drugs, alcohol, and hustling. He moved back to Boston and started robbing houses and apartments. Eventually, he was caught by the police and sent to jail.

Malcolm X was in jail for eight years. When first go there he was nicknamed “Satan” because of his anger and hate toward himself, God, and the Bible. The first person in prison that made a positive impact on Malcolm was another inmate named Bimbi. Whenever Bimbi talked everyone would listen, even the white guards; this was what fascinated Malcolm about Bimbi. Malcolm said, “Out of the blue one day, Bimbi told me flatly, as was his way, that I had some brains, if I’d use them. He told me I should take advantage of the prison correspondence courses and the library” (157). When Malcolm started reading, he learned about topics like history, philosophy, and religion that he never thought about when he was a hustler. Around this time his brother, Reginald went to visit Malcolm in prison. Reginald taught Malcolm about the Nation of Islam. When Malcolm began thinking about what Reginald was telling him, he realized that the teachings of the Nation were right and that the “white devil” caused all the strife in his life. Malcolm then began writing to Mr. Elijah Mohammed, the prophet that started the Nation of Islam. Mr. Mohammed wrote back and they exchanged letters often. Malcolm began his conversion to Islam and when he left jail he became a devout follower of Mr. Mohammed and the Nation of Islam. He worked hard for the Nation for twelve years, until he was suspended and finally exiled. Before he was officially exiled, Malcolm, since conversion Malcolm X, went on his hajj to Mecca. There for the first time he was treated as an equal by other Muslims and came to befriend “white devils”. When he got back to the United States, he started preaching his new-found knowledge, but people didn’t trust him because of his falling out with the Nation of Islam and his sudden, hypocritical-seeming conversion of faith.

This book is important because it describes the views of one of the most important figures during the civil rights movement and in the history of America. It tells Malcolm X’s life story in a very factual and forthright manner; he doesn’t try to justify his time as a hustler, and he expresses his views to the point. This book isn’t an argument to join the Nation of Islam, it is telling how the Islam helped Malcolm and how strongly Malcolm believes in it.

Malcolm X does show extreme prejudice against the white man. Despite this, I don’t think it marrs the value of the book, in fact I think it adds to the value of the book. Malcolm X describes to us the things he went through because of white people’s racism, and why he believes so devoutly in the Nation of Islam. He has evidence and facts to support his ideas and beliefs, which is why, as a reader, I didn’t dismiss him as an angry black man; instead I paid attention to what he was saying, even though I might not believe them myself. For example, when Mr. Mohammed is spreading the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, he says:

“The ignorance we of the black race here in America have, and the self-hatred we have, they are fine examples of what the white slavemaster has seen fit to teach to us. Do we show the plain common sense, like every other people on this planet Earth, to unite among ourselves? No! We are humbling ourselves, sitting-in, and begging-in, trying to unite with the slavemaster! I don’t seem to be able to imagine any more ridiculous sight. A thousand ways every day, the white man is telling you ‘you can’t live here, you can’t enter here, you can’t eat here, drink here, walk here, work here, you can’t ride, here you can’t play here, you can’t study here.’ Haven’t we yet seen enough to see that he has no plan to unite with you?

“You have tilled his fields! Cooked his food! Washed his clothes! …In many cases, you have been far and away better Christians than this slavemaster who taught you Christianity!

“…this Christian American white man has not got it in him to ding the human decency, and enough sense of justice, to recognize us, and accept us, the black people who have done so much for him as fellow human beings!”

I think this is a very powerful part of what the Nation of Islam taught. When you think about the history of America and racism from their point of view, they make total sense and are in the right.

I think Alex Haley did a very good job putting this book together; I felt like it was really Malcolm X who wrote this book. I think Haley’s story telling abilities really played an important role in writing this book; before I started reading I expected it to be boring, but this book read like a novel instead of an autobiography.

This book is valuable to everyone interested in influential people, the history of America, and even religion. I have learned so much about all of these topics by reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I have learned that some of the greatest leaders come from the lowliest backgrounds, that the history of this great and free nation has four hundred years of bondage in its history, that Islam isn’t the religion the media is brainwashing America to be afraid of; in fact it is a very loving and brotherly religion that accepts anyone and everyone. This book has current and permanent interest because it tells the story of a very important man in the history of America no more than fifty years ago, and it tells history of America that people will be educated about in generations to come.

Alex Haley. 19 Jan. 2008. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 7 Feb. 2008
Haley, Alex. Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.