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Malcolm X's searing memoir belongs on the small shelf of great autobiographies. The reasons are many: the blistering
honesty with which he recounts his transformation from a bitter, self-destructive petty criminal into an articulate
political activist, the continued relevance of his militant analysis of white racism, and his emphasis on self-respect
and self-help for African Americans. And there's the vividness with which he depicts black popular culture--try as he
might to criticize those lindy hops at Boston's Roseland dance hall from the perspective of his Muslim faith, he can't
help but make them sound pretty wonderful. These are but a few examples. The Autobiography of Malcolm X limns an
archetypal journey from ignorance and despair to knowledge and spiritual awakening. When Malcolm tells coauthor Alex
Haley, "People don't realize how a man's whole life can be changed by one book," he voices the central belief
underpinning every attempt to set down a personal story as an example for others. Although many believe his ethic was
directly opposed to Martin Luther King Jr.'s during the civil rights struggle of the '60s, the two were not so
different. Malcolm may have displayed a most un-Christian distaste for loving his enemies, but he understood with King
that love of God and love of self are the necessary first steps on the road to freedom. --Wendy Smith