There is a growing sense among those who have read it that Manning Marable’s latest book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is itself a reinvention, or worse. From reviewers, journalists and scholars, some of whom have as yet not gone on record, we are hearing descriptive words like, “disappointment” and “unfortunate” in reference to the book. In one more severe response from an expert on the life of Malcolm X whose public statements are as of now still forthcoming, the comparison was made to political defamation in the form of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program warfare against revolutionary leaders and movements. Perhaps most damaging is that the author is one as prominent, well-respected and recently deceased as Marable and that the subject is Malcolm X, a man whose high regard among Black Americans and genuinely good human beings of all backgrounds is simply and often literally second-to-none.

In our initial discussion of the book Dr. Todd Burroughs offered his first observations which included that the book appeared to have been written “by committee,” that is by a staff of graduate student and junior faculty researchers, and that the book was limited in its references and even more so by its woefully short list of only 25 interviews. Burroughs has said that he will with “sadness” publish his full review this week. We also discussed with Richard Prince of Journal-isms his reporting of an interview conducted with Karl Evanzz, a noted author of and researcher into the life and assassination of Malcolm X. Karl Evanzz has said that Marable’s book is a “fraud” and a “failure.” His problems include that Marable offers nothing new or particularly revelatory, and that all of the more salacious claims in the book, from Malcolm and his wife Betty’s mutual adultery to Malcolm’s homosexuality, are far from supported by Marable. Evanzz also notes that some of the more attention-grabbing elements of the book involving the assassination have been more or less known for quite some time and had even been reported popularly in mainstream outlets for decades. Evanzz is also in the process of writing a more full review.

Outside of the more sensational and personal aspects of Marable’s focus on Malcolm’s life are what appear to be the two central claims he makes that will help to, as he says of his book, “reconstruct the full contours of {Malcolm X’s} remarkable life.” The first, according to Marable, is that U.S. intelligence agencies and the New York Police Department did nothing to prevent the assassination despite strong evidence that it was coming. The second is that the plot was largely a product of the Newark, N.J. mosque of the Nation of Islam. Now, his review has not as yet been published but Karl Evanzz might indeed point out the fact that his own 1992 publication The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X and Zak Kondo’s 1993 publication, Conspiracy’s: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X had already covered this. In fact, Evanzz is likely to further note that while Marable dismisses most of the books written on Malcolm X during the 1990s as having little value, a claim he makes without detail or explanation, he also references some of them in summarizing their arguments for his own work. This, along with a list recently sent to the book’s publisher by another well-known author detailing no less than 14 specific misspellings, inaccurate dates, and other errors, is likely to raise more concerns about the scholarship of a book already being described in some prominent places as a “meticulous… portrait” or as the “definitive” biography of Malcolm X.

While much of the recent discussion of the book has been of necessity part of glowing celebrations of Marable’s life and scholarship not enough has yet to occur that critically examines this enormously popular book specifically from the perspective of the Black political left. Malcolm X remains too important to too many for occasions like these to not be turned to our advantage. Read Marable’s work, read it in conjunction with many others. Host symposia, conduct interviews and challenge your organizations to do the same and then to adopt the actual politics and strategies of Malcolm X lest they – the most important aspects of the man – be lost in the shuffle of the academy or personal gossip. Indeed this is what we are doing. So stay tuned.