New York Times Sunday Review, January 8, 2016

In 1977 Alex Haley, the author of the best-selling “Autobiography of Malcolm X,” achieved world renown after ABC broadcast an eight-part version of his book “Roots,” published the previous year to great acclaim. “Roots,” which chronicled Haley’s search for his African ancestors (and in doing so created a template for the genealogical boom reflected in popular series like “Finding Your Roots,” with Henry Louis Gates Jr.), became an international phenomenon that turned the financially insecure Haley into an icon. Yet Haley’s newfound celebrity and wealth proved to be a double-edged sword. Allegations of plagiarism and historical inaccuracies scarred him, diminishing his literary reputation, and, argues the historian Robert J. Norrell in his briskly paced “Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation,” unfairly tarnished the author of “the two most influential books on African-American history in the second half of the 20th century.”

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Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2015

Myths That Changed America: Haley produced two of the top-selling books of the second half of the 20th century. Was he a flawed artist or a ruthless hustler?
By Edward Kosner

December 27, 2015

Alex Haley was once a commanding figure in American popular culture, but his name is now in eclipse. He sold six million copies each of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “Roots,” his epic of slavery and black survival in America. Eighty million people watched individual episodes of the 1977 TV miniseries of the book he called “a saga.” But his career ended in charges that “Roots” was both fraudulent and plagiarized—a neat trick—and his reputation never recovered.

More than two decades after his death at 70 in 1992, Haley is the subject of a sympathetic and mostly clear-eyed biography by Robert J. Norrell, a professor at the University of Tennessee. The book doesn’t dispel the cloud hanging over Haley, but it does portray him as an earnest, striving writer who overpaid his dues as an African-American freelancer desperate to break into the big time. In the darkest days, he papered a wall of his basement flat with rejection letters, the most encouraging a postcard from an editor that said: “Nice try.”

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New York Times, December 10, 2015

Review: In ‘Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation,’ a Reputation Made and Lost
by Dwight Garner

December 10, 2015

Alex Haley wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965), in collaboration with its subject, and “Roots: The Saga of a Family” (1976), two of the most important books by an African-American in the second half of the 20th century.

Each sold more than six million copies. Each had a profound impact on black identity in America. Each was billed as nonfiction but, crucially, only the Malcolm X book should have been so designated. Therein lies the painful story of a literary reputation made and lost, one that is told simply and well in Robert J. Norrell’s “Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation.”

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Atlanta Journal Constitution, December 2, 2015

Review: Biography makes case for legacy of 'Roots' author Alex Haley
By Jim Higgins

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2015

Alex Haley was a working freelance writer, not an ideologue. Yet he wrote two of the 20th century’s chief texts of African-American consciousness: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the saga “Roots.” The latter was adapted for a blockbuster TV miniseries.

In “Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation,” Robert J. Norrell describes the making, often messy, of these seminal books and their powerful impact on American culture. Norrell is a professor of history at the University of Tennessee and author of “Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington.”

Born in small-town Tennessee, Haley (1921-’92) joined the Coast Guard in 1939 as a “mess boy” and later cook. He had liked writing but hadn’t envisioned it as a possible career.

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