Essential Books on Malcolm X
There are countless books on Malcolm X, and it comes with good reason, he was a Muslim minister and human rights activist who served as a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.
“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of America’s most consequential figures to make his mark on western society, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on Malcolm X.
The Dead Are Arising by Les Payne
Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X – all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.
The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.”
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
Manning Marable’s acclaimed biography of Malcolm X finally does justice to one of the most influential and controversial figures of twentieth-century American history. Filled with startling new information and shocking revelations, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America. Reaching into Malcolm’s troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents’ activism as followers of Marcus Garvey through his own work with the Nation of Islam and rise in the world of black nationalism, and culminates in the never-before-told true story of his assassination.
The Sword and the Shield by Peniel E. Joseph
To most Americans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. represent contrasting ideals: self-defense versus nonviolence, Black Power versus civil rights, the sword versus the shield. The struggle for Black freedom is wrought with the same contrasts. While nonviolent direct action is remembered as an unassailable part of American democracy, the movement’s militancy is either vilified or erased outright.
In The Sword and the Shield, Peniel E. Joseph upends these misconceptions and reveals a nuanced portrait of two men who, despite markedly different backgrounds, inspired and pushed each other throughout their adult lives.
Blood Brothers by Randy Roberts
In 1962, boxing writers and fans considered Cassius Clay an obnoxious self-promoter, and few believed that he would become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X, the most famous minister in the Nation of Islam, saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation’s message. The two became fast friends, keeping their interactions secret from the press for fear of jeopardizing Clay’s career. Clay began living a double life – a patriotic “good negro” in public, and a radical reformer behind the scenes. Soon, however, their friendship would sour, with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.
Based on previously untapped sources, from Malcolm’s personal papers to FBI records, Blood Brothers is the first book to offer an in-depth portrait of this complex bond. An extraordinary narrative of love and deep affection, as well as deceit, betrayal, and violence, this story is a window into the public and private lives of two of our greatest national icons, and the tumultuous period in American history that they helped to shape.
In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time.
Malcolm X: The FBI File by Clayborne Carson
Shortly after he was released from a Boston prison in 1953, the FBI watched every move Malcolm X made. Their files on him totaled more than 3,600 pages, covering every facet of his life. Viewing the file as a source of information about the ideological development and political significance of Malcolm X, historian Clayborne Carson examines Malcolm’s relationship to other African-American leaders and institutions in order to define more clearly Malcolm’s place in modern history.
With its sobering scrutiny of the FBI and the national policing strategies of the 1950s and 1960s, this gem among books on Malcolm X is one of a kind; plus, never before has there been so much material on the assassination of Malcolm X in one conclusive volume.
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz
Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. X follows the boy who would become Malcolm X from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
By Any Means Necessary by Malcolm X
As a 14-year-old, he was Malcolm Little, the president of his class and a top student. At 16, he was hustling tips at a Boston nightclub. In Harlem, he was known as Detroit Red, a slick street operator. At 19, he was back in Boston, leading a gang of burglars. At 20, he was in prison. It was in prison that Malcolm Little started the journey that would lead him to adopt the name Malcolm X, and there he developed his beliefs about what being Black means in America: beliefs that shook America then and still shake America today. Walter Dean Myers’ classic biography sheds light on a Black man whose beliefs changed America.
The End of White World Supremacy by Malcolm X
When, in 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down on the stage of a Harlem theater, America lost one of its most dynamic political thinkers. Yet, as Michael Eric Dyson has observed, “he remains relevant because he spoke presciently to the issues that matter today: black identity, the politics of black rage, the expression of black dissent, the politics of black power, and the importance of consolidating varieties of expressions within black communities – different ideologies and politics – and bringing them together under a banner of functional solidarity.”
The End of White World Supremacy contains four major speeches by Malcolm X, including: “Black Man’s History,” “The Black Revolution,” “The Old Negro and the New Negro,” and the famous “The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost” speech (“God’s Judgment of White America”), delivered after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little were all born at the beginning of the 20th century and forced to contend with the prejudices of Jim Crow as Black women. These three extraordinary women passed their knowledge to their children with the hope of helping them to survive in a society that would deny their humanity from the very beginning – from Louise teaching her children about their activist roots, to Berdis encouraging James to express himself through writing, to Alberta basing all of her lessons in faith and social justice. These women used their strength and motherhood to push their children toward greatness, all with a conviction that every human being deserves dignity and respect despite the rampant discrimination they faced.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Malcolm X, check out our list of The 20 Best Books on Martin Luther King, Jr!