I once heard Bill Ayers talk about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and he said that for him, the moral of the story is that you can change your life.

Marable, as his subtitle indicates, has much the same view, but his Malcolm is much more calculating (even when it comes to co-constructing the autobiography with Alex Haley, who had his own agenda). Marable points out the gaps and exaggerations in the autobiography as well as its fictional elements as he takes us through Malcolm’s life. His prose is riveting; you know how it ends, but with the exception of one or two short and probably necessary digressions, you are pressed to keep turning pages.

For Marable, Malcolm’s re-inventions, especially later in life (which is not to say when he was old – he never got to be old) were out of calculated necessity. His thoughts were evolving at the same time as he was trying to attract a broader constituency.

Marable’s treatment of Malcolm’s assassination, both in the prologue and at the end of the book, is impressively detailed. I knew there was speculation about what exactly happened that day and who did what, but Marable raises the questions clearly without resorting to hyperbole.

The only thing I felt uneasy about was Marable’s use of the autobiography. On the one hand, he cites numerous examples of its errors (deliberate and otherwise); sometimes, though, he seems to accept it as evidence. I am not sure on what basis he made those decisions, and he doesn’t provide an explanation.

Overall, a great book and, I think, a necessary companion for anyone reading the autobiography.