Eliot Fremont-Smith, reviewing The Autobiography of Malcolm X for The New York Times in 1965, describes it as "extraordinary" and says it is a "brilliant, painful, important book". Two years later, historian John William Ward writes that the book "will surely become one of the classics in American autobiography". Bayard Rustin argues the book suffered from a lack of critical analysis, which he attributes to Malcolm X's expectation that Haley be a "chronicler, not an interpreter." Newsweek also highlights the limited insight and criticism in The Autobiography but praises it for power and poignance. However, Truman Nelson in The Nation lauds the epilogue as revelatory and describes Haley as a "skillful amanuensis". Variety calls it a "mesmerizing page-turner" in 1992, and in 1998, Time names The Autobiography of Malcolm X one of ten "required reading" nonfiction books.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X has influenced generations of readers. In 1990, Charles Solomon writes in the Los Angeles Times, "Unlike many '60s icons, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, with its double message of anger and love, remains an inspiring document." Cultural historian Howard Bruce Franklin describes it as "one of the most influential books in late-twentieth-century American culture", and the Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature credits Haley with shaping "what has undoubtedly become the most influential twentieth-century African American autobiography".
bell hooks writes "When I was a young college student in the early seventies, the book I read which revolutionized my thinking about race and politics was The Autobiography of Malcolm X." David Bradley adds:
She [hooks] is not alone. Ask any middle-aged socially conscious intellectual to list the books that influenced his or her youthful thinking, and he or she will most likely mention The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Some will do more than mention it. Some will say that ... they picked it up—by accident, or maybe by assignment, or because a friend pressed it on them—and that they approached the reading of it without great expectations, but somehow that book ... took hold of them. Got inside them. Altered their vision, their outlook, their insight. Changed their lives.
Max Elbaum concurs, writing that "The Autobiography of Malcolm X was without question the single most widely read and influential book among young people of all racial backgrounds who went to their first demonstration sometime between 1965 and 1968."
At the end of his tenure as the first African-American U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder selected The Autobiography of Malcolm X when asked what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C.
Publication and sales
Doubleday had contracted to publish The Autobiography of Malcolm X and paid a $30,000 advance to Malcolm X and Haley in 1963. In March 1965, three weeks after Malcolm X's assassination, Nelson Doubleday, Jr., canceled its contract out of fear for the safety of his employees. Grove Press then published the book later that year. Since The Autobiography of Malcolm X has sold millions of copies, Marable described Doubleday's choice as the "most disastrous decision in corporate publishing history".
The Autobiography of Malcolm X has sold well since its 1965 publication. According to The New York Times, the paperback edition sold 400,000 copies in 1967 and 800,000 copies the following year. The Autobiography entered its 18th printing by 1970. The New York Times reported that six million copies of the book had been sold by 1977. The book experienced increased readership and returned to the best-seller list in the 1990s, helped in part by the publicity surrounding Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X. Between 1989 and 1992, sales of the book increased by 300%.
In 1968 film producer Marvin Worth hired novelist James Baldwin to write a screenplay based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Baldwin was joined by screenwriter Arnold Perl, who died in 1971 before the screenplay could be finished. Baldwin developed his work on the screenplay into the book One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on Alex Haley's "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", published in 1972. Other authors who attempted to draft screenplays include playwright David Mamet, novelist David Bradley, author Charles Fuller, and screenwriter Calder Willingham. Director Spike Lee revised the Baldwin-Perl script for his 1992 film Malcolm X.
In 1992, attorney Gregory Reed bought the original manuscripts of The Autobiography of Malcolm X for $100,000 at the sale of the Haley Estate. The manuscripts included three "missing chapters" that were omitted from the original text. In a 1964 letter to his publisher, Haley had described these chapters as, "the most impactful material of the book, some of it rather lava-like". Marable writes that the missing chapters were "dictated and written" during Malcolm X's final months in the Nation of Islam. In them, Marable says, Malcolm X proposed the establishment of a union of African American civic and political organizations. Marable wonders whether this project might have led some within the Nation of Islam and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to try to silence Malcolm X. In April 2010, the New York Post reported that the missing chapters would be published with a foreword by Malcolm X's daughter Ilyasah Shabazz.
The book has been published in more than 45 editions and in many languages, including Arabic, German, French, Indonesian. Important editions include:
- X, Malcolm; Haley, Alex (1965). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1st hardcover ed.). New York: Grove Press. OCLC 219493184.
- X, Malcolm; Haley, Alex (1965). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1st paperback ed.). Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-17122-7.
- X, Malcolm; Haley, Alex (1973). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (paperback ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-002824-9.
- X, Malcolm; Haley, Alex (1977). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (mass market paperback ed.). Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-27139-6.
- X, Malcolm; Haley, Alex (1992). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (audio cassettes ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-79366-1.