Bryan Caplan  

Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Club?

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I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in high school, and just re-read it for the fourth time.  It may sound like an eccentric choice, but I'm thinking of starting a new EconLog book club on this work.  AMX is packed with grist for the Big Think social science mill, including:

  • Great accounts of labor markets in the 30s and 40s.
  • The economics of poverty before the modern welfare state.
  • The economics of crime back when the war on drugs was more of a scuffle.
  • The single best story about education as a merit good I've ever heard.
  • The economics of taste-based and statistical discrimination.
  • Poverty dynamics, including how to reduce poverty by reducing pathological behavior.
  • The behavioral economics of religion.
  • Markets, greed, politics, and hatred.
  • Discrimination dynamics. 
  • Decolonization: early hopes versus current outcomes.

The book is also extremely well-written and engaging, making #13 on Time's list of the All-Time Best Non-Fiction Books.

The main problem with past book clubs, at least for me, was that they dragged on too long.  My remedy is to sharply reduce the number of segments.  Proposed breakdown:

Segment #1: Malcolm's Childhood and Entry-Level Jobs (Chapters 1-5)

Segment #2: Malcolm's Life of Crime (Chapters 6-10)

Segment #3: Malcolm and the Nation of Islam (Chapters 11-15)

Segment #4: Malcolm's Purge, Second Thoughts, and Murder (Chapters 16-19, plus Haley's Epilogue)

That's my proposal.  I'll probably write the first post around August 20, and run subsequent post every two weeks.  Is there demand?

P.S. Used copies of the book are about $4.

Update: Since there is sufficient demand, the Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Club is on.  It's on!

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (14 to date)
Eric Hanneken writes:

Sure, I'll sign up. Somehow I've managed to avoid reading that book until now.

Steve writes:

I love this idea.

I'm in. I'll order it today and get started on the first five chapters.

Robert Kwasny writes:

I'm in.

Doing posts chapter by chapter was too slow for me as well. I'd prefer covering five chapter on weekly basis (keeps me much more engaged, two months to cover a book is a long time), but I'll gladly take two weeks.

Javier writes:

I'm in. I've been wanting to read it for some time but never got around to it.

liberty writes:

I'm in! Fantastic choice!

JoeMac writes:

Do it.

I have been waiting to read it. Just make sure we know when and what to read beforehand.

collin writes:

Several Questions:
1) It seems that Malcolm X only benefitted from education because he demanded it in jail. Should we be selling educational vouchers not from a bad teachers union, but from a students & parents will feel lucky to receiving the education the kids get?

2) The key of Malcolm X turnaround is a religious conversion. This leads to the differences of Republicans and Libertarians. Do we need to mandate religious norms on society to avoid the government doing so?

3) Malcolm X religious conversion was very much us (Nation Of Islam) vs. them (White Christian America). (I know the message was toned down a lot towards the end.) If limited
government needs religious norms, are we forever caught in religious battles? Is world forever caught by the trap of George Carlin's great joke "Most wars are started because somebody had the wrong answer to the God question?"

I recommend George Carlin best routines as the second month of reading!

Matt C writes:

I had just thought recently that I should read this, but hadn't gone over the threshold of getting it. I'll get it now. :)

Mark writes:

Sounds like a good choice. I'm in.

Ted Craig writes:

You know the title is erroneous, right? It's really the work of black Republican Alex Haley. If you want something more authentic, check out Eldridge Cleaver's "Soul on Ice."

Mark Brophy writes:

It's a great account of labor markets in the 30's and 40's, as Bryan notes. I remember reading it and wondering why Malcolm would moan about earning $60/week as a waiter in Boston and using that as an excuse to enter a criminal life. At the time, my Irish grandfather was working for the WT Grant department store for $20/week and never considered becoming a criminal.

Randy DeVaul writes:

I think this is a great choice for a book club. I've read the book many times, but never specifically from an economic perspective. In perusing some of the other blog entries on this site, I think it'd be interesting to juxtapose the book club topics with this entry on "Getting Rich in America":

For example, with regard to the first "rule":

1. Think of America as a land of choices.

Are the choices/opportunities available to everyone? Why are options perceived differently among certain populations in society? How does a kid in the inner-city view the opportunity costs of three choices, either go to school, take a low-paying job, or live the criminal lifestyle?

Further, Malcolm X's purge seems to point to a few items on the "Getting Rich" list, particularly 3, 5, and 6, about resisting temptation, staying married, and taking care of yourself, respectively. I think Malcolm X even argues that the "American Negro" suffers more from a mental enslavement than a physical one, at that this impoverished mentality perpetuates this poverty cycle. This meshes well with your bullet of "Poverty dynamics, including how to reduce poverty by reducing pathological behavior."

Just a few thoughts :-) Looking forward to re-reading this book from a different angle. Cheers.

J writes:

The thing that most impressed me in Malcolm X's book and in himself as a speaker, was his honesty. He did not try to deceive himself. But I never understood his religious conversion that changed his life - the white man was the devil? and the whole absurd story.

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