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This book is still widely considered the definitive biography of Elijah Muhammad, one of the most important religious figures in American history.  Born in Georgia at the dawn of the Jim Crow era, Muhammad (née Elijah Poole) moved north during the Great Migration and eventually became a founding member of the Nation of Islam.  A mix of black nationalism, Islamic heterodoxy, and racial-uplift ideals, the organization would capture the imagination of many African Americans during the height of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, offering a separatist vision predicated on self-government and an apocalyptic reckoning between the races.  Although the guiding force behind the Nation's philosophy and practices for more than four decades, Muhammad's leadership would shape and be shaped by followers like Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Muhammad Ali, all of whom helped spread his message across Black America and beyond.  Based on exhaustive research, interviews with Muhammad's family members and followers, and access to previously classified government records, The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad* is essential reading for understanding the durability of both Islam and black nationalism among African Americans.

*This book is a reprint edition of An Original

Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad,

which was first published in 1997 by St. Martin's


An Original Man.jpg

Interview on C-SPAN re: An Original Man

Praise for An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad


“I can think of no 20th-century leader with anything like the impact of Elijah Muhammad whose life has been so profoundly unexamined….  In ‘An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad,’ Claude Andrew Clegg…has brought Muhammad to light in a fluidly written biography rich with information, analysis and suspense.”

Jill Nelson, The New York Times


-“Clegg’s detailed explication of Muhammad’s life is nearly flawless.  Anyone seeking to understand the enduring significance of the Nation of Islam…should begin by reading this biography.”

William Jelani Cobb, The Washington Post


-“In ‘An Original Man,’ Claude Clegg III…gives us more information than we’ve ever had before and new ways to think about the man whose organization bequeathed us Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan….”

Anthony M. Platt, The Los Angeles Times


-“Those seeking a definitive biography of the Muslim leader should turn to [Clegg’s] study, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad….”

Jack E. White, Time

-“If Elijah Muhammad had sought someone to write his story in a fair, unflinching manner, he couldn’t have made a better choice than Claude Andrew Clegg III."

William R. Macklin, The Philadelphia Inquirer


-“Claude Andrew Clegg’s An Original Man is also well researched and…valuable in its effort to fill in the shadowy figure of Muhammad himself….  [Clegg] is deeply informed on the ins and outs of the group [Nation of Islam].”

Anthony Walton, Harper’s Magazine


-“[Clegg] moves beyond distorted and simplistic popular images to create a readable, unapologetic, critical biography that analyzes the man and his movement in historical context.  This is essential reading not merely on Elijah Muhammad or the [Nation of Islam] but on black nationalism and the 20th century in America.”

Thomas Davis, Library Journal


-“A meticulous, absorbing reconstruction of the life of the ‘Messenger of Allah’ who led the Nation of Islam for more than four decades, until his death in 1975….  [This] is both an outstanding biography and an important contribution to the history of the Nation of Islam.”

Kirkus Reviews


-“Clegg’s balanced historical narrative removes the study of Muslim individuals and groups from the realm of exotica and stereotypes and joins the works of [C. Eric] Lincoln and [E. U.] Essien-Udom as one of the most important scholarly books on the Nation of Islam.  I recommend it highly.”

Richard Brent Turner, American Historical Review


-“Clegg’s biographical account of Elijah Muhammad is a compelling tale of personal and communal redemption expressed at many levels….  An Original Man fills a significant void in the historical literature by examining the life of one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic African American leaders.”

Junius Rodriquez, Journal of Southern History


-“Claude A. Clegg creates a well-documented, balanced and compelling biography of one of this century’s most important black leaders as well as a careful study of the organization Elijah Muhammad led for forty years….  Indeed, a biography of this magnitude is long overdue.”

Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar, Journal of Negro History


-…a well-rounded biography by a professor of history, [An Original Man] is also perhaps the best book ever written on the Nation of Islam.”

Daniel Pipes, Commentary


“’Will the true Elijah Muhammad please set forth?’  That is the essence of the carefully excavated biography of the late Muslim leader, crafted with dispassionate skill by historian Claude Clegg.  Undeterred by the narcosis of romance which so often overwhelms the critical sensibilities of researchers who venture into the exotic realm of charismatic values, Professor Clegg comes away with a palpable find—an Elijah you can touch, and perhaps even understand.”

C. Eric Lincoln, author of The Black Muslims in America


-“‘An Original Man’ is a major contribution to African-American history….”

David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross, in Newsday


-“Now, at last, [Elijah Muhammad] has his own biography, smart, scholarly, rich in research, measured in tone.  Professor Clegg has brought his subject to vivid life and placed him accurately in the context of his time.  In the process, he has made a major and long-needed contribution to the literature of race in America.”

Peter Goldman, author of The Death and Life of Malcolm X


-“Without question, An Original Man is a landmark text which contributes not only to an understanding of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, but also to the meaning of black nationalism in the twentieth century….  Not only well researched, it is also a penetrating analysis of the meaning of Elijah Muhammad and thus will provide a much needed understanding of the significance of Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the Nation of Islam.”

James H. Cone, author of Malcolm & Martin & America


-“Claude Andrew Clegg III, in this well-researched biography of Elijah Muhammad, provides an index to the mind of a mystic figure who has received surprisingly little attention from students of African American history….  The author’s lucid narrative style will make it appealing both to academics and to a wider audience.”

Wilson J. Moses, author of The Golden Age of Black Nationalism


 -“An Original Man gives us a human, ordinary man, full of experiences and ready to do battle for the rights of definition.”

Molefi Asante, author of Afrocentricity


-“An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad is impressive, punctiliously researched, and persuasively argued.  In telling Elijah Muhammad’s story, Claude Clegg III has created a tour de force study of African American life and culture in the twentieth century.”

Michael A. Gomez, author of Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas


-Without a doubt, this is an exemplary work….  Clegg’s treatment of the Nation of Islam’s relationship to Africa is extremely important….  Clegg demonstrates very clearly how the Nation of Islam’s quest for economic self-sufficiency led to an undermining of its separatist goals as espoused by Elijah Muhammad.”

Ernest Allen Jr., Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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