All it took was one brief glance and the book was copped. The cover featured two of the most important figures in American history with one glancing over the other’s shoulder. The image was familiar and the fact that it was on the cover of a book made it even better and even more urgent to pick up. The figures on the front of the book were Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, and the title was Blood Brothers: The fatal friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
There was no need to read any reviews beforehand, search for feedback, or do a background check on the authors. In truth, there was no time to do any of those things. For someone who ranks time as one of the 3 most important things a person can have, the time put into doing background checks would be better spent on simply buying the book. Sure, there was the book that was currently in rotation and another following before this one would be read, but that wasn’t the point. Once this book came into view, it was a wrap.
A call was made to one of my boys, Justin Tinsley, to ask if he heard about the book and if he wanted to read it. Tins saw the cover, went crazy, and said that he did. This is where the concept of time came back, because as much excitement as there was about the discovery of the book, someone needed to read it immediately, and not in the “read it to tell me about it,” sense, but in a furious and frenetic quest for knowledge and to quench curiosity. Since I already had two books that were going to read before getting to Blood Brothers, I ordered the book and sent it to Tinsley to read first, and once the previous two were done, I’d catch up on Blood Brothers. Not one to turn down a book, he got it, attacked it right away, and I followed a week or so later.
The background of the story pretty much sets the table for Blood Brothers. Both figures were drawn to The Nation of Islam and immersed themselves in the teachings of The Messenger, Elijah Muhammad. The book provides a solid foundation for readers to begin, whether one is familiar with Ali and Malcolm X or whether being introduced to them for the first time. The authors introduce Ali in the early-1960s as Cassius Clay, not many months removed from winning the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. The book does its part to provide a boxing foundation while also dispersing tidbits of Clay’s personality at the time and some of the figures who were central in his development as a boxer. The authors also provided evidence of the seeds being planted early in regard to Clay’s curiosity with The Nation of Islam. There are plenty of anecdotes of Clay exhibiting the personality that drew people from all over the world to watch his fights as well as stories of his trash talk toward his opponents including Sonny Liston, the man Clay would eventually face as a 22-year-old for the heavyweight championship of the world.
An event in which a Muslim man was brutally beaten at the hands of the police in Manhattan set the table for the authors to introduce the readers to Malcolm X. This scene was re-created in the Spike Lee-produced film that was released in the early-1990s. Reading the words and replaying the scenes from the movie brought images from literature and film to life, colliding the two and completely rocking my world. The authors described the scene on page 22 and despite my interest already being at a high, it shot through the roof reading the accuracy and clarity in their words as they described everything from the scene of the crime, to the demeanor of Malcolm upon receiving the news of his injured brother, to the mobilization of the Muslims to confront the police. It was at this point when the book truly came to life and it was impossible to put down, nor did I have a desire to.
The authors took their time setting the table before bringing Ali and Malcolm together. It was vital to provide insight on the young boxer, provide him with the proper depth and complexity as a person as opposed to merely writing a story about Ali and X. Providing readers with a backdrop of The United States during the 1950s and 1960s was instrumental in people understanding the climate and conditions that contributed to the two central figures of the story. As it pertains to time and properly setting the tone for the reader, it was well worth the wait. Time is of the essence, and as important as it is to ensure time is maximized as much as possible, there was absolutely no rush to get to Ali and X getting together. How they got together and the climate in which fostered them getting together was just as crucial as them meeting. It was just as important to see the elements and circumstances that led to the two of them getting together, the establishment of their friendship and the issues that led to their eventual parting of ways. The authors did all of that and more.
There are several resources and books that a reader can pick up to digest this book even more in the event that the reader hasn’t been exposed to them before. Those resources include The Ballot or The Bullet, a speech given by Malcolm X in 1964. Two more resources are The Trials of Muhammad Ali, a documentary on Netflix that a friend recommended while reading Blood Brothers as well as One Nation Divisible, an HBO-produced documentary about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Some books include The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Fight of the Century: Ali vs. Frazier March 8, 1971.
One of the biggest takeaways from the book is the reverence Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X had for each other, the reverence that made their split even more painful to read about. As a reader, it was painful to take in; one can only imagine how painful it was for Ali and X in real time. The authors provided consistent portraits of the depth of their relationship as well as the evidence of grief both illustrated at the parting of such a genuine kinship. Malcolm illustrated his grief in the moment. Ali illustrated his in the moment as well and, years later, when events such as his conviction for draft evasion and other factors gave him the opportunity to properly elaborate on the impact Malcolm X had on his life.
The last takeaway is the way in which Malcolm X approached time. For Malcolm X, he was racing against the clock every single day in an effort to get the most of the time he had on Earth to positively affect as many lives as possible and to improve the condition of Black people. Malcolm X knew he did not have a lot of time left to live when he was ousted from the Nation of Islam by Elijah Muhammad with the events leading to his exodus from the group written in vivid and patient detail by the authors. He recognized the conditions that affected his people, yet he was consistently in the present and always looking to the future. Whether the authors intended for a reader to take that away from their interpretation of Malcolm X is unknown, but by doing so, they did a tremendous job of adding another layer to a man who changed the world.