Books: An Unlikely Prophet

A vivid but uneven portrait of the founder of the Nation of Islam

Ever since the Nation of Islam was founded in the 1930s, its members have lived by the slogan "Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say." In his new biography of the sect's enigmatic former leader, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (Pantheon Books; 667 pages; $29), Karl Evanzz aims to pierce that veil of secrecy but misses the mark.

Drawn largely from files obtained from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act, The Messenger contains new revelations about the transformation of Elijah Poole, a semiliterate refugee from the Jim Crow South, into the...

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