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Editorial Reviews

An idealistic young man strives to make his way among the like-minded of his own black community and the larger white world beyond only to experience cascading disillusionment in both. He is The Invisible Man, the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece, electrifying today, and devastatingly so when published in 1953. A richly poetic and cinematic work carrying a searing social critique, the novel features a first-person narrative that seems written to be heard as much as read. And the actor reading to us here seems to have been born for the role; as the movie trailers say, Joe Morton is The Invisible Man.

From his nameless and hidden existence in a Manhattan basement, our narrator leads us through the events leading to his identity — or lack of one. A high school valedictorian down South, he receives a scholarship from a white group — after being brought onstage for a humiliating, bigoted burlesque. Honored at his black college to chauffeur a visiting white benefactor, he accedes to the request to take a fateful detour through the town’s black slums. As a result, the college’s president, a venerated yet utterly Machiavellian figure, scapegoats him. Expelled and directed north for redemption and employment, he again becomes the fall guy, literally and figuratively, when he is injured and laid off from his job in a union-embattled New York City factory.

Nursed back to health by the kind, maternal Mary up in Harlem, he seems to find his calling at the unlikely event of an elderly couple’s eviction. Spontaneously addressing the roiling crowd to temper their rage lest it incite the armed white evictors, the injustices he shares with them by race, as well as those befalling him for less obvious reasons, impassion him to eloquently encourage their defiance. His oratory draws him to the attention of Jack, head of ‘the brotherhood’ (Ellison’s stand-in for the Communist movement), who offers him work — and successfully indoctrinates him with utopian propaganda and sets him up to lead the party’s Harlem chapter. Seduced by his prestige among the party’s white sophisticates and a long-craved sense of purposefulness he embraces his work, even standing down Ras, an afro-centric nihilist violently competing for followers. Intrigue upon intrigue later, a more sinister threat reveals itself in his dogmatically ruthless brother-mentor plotting to further his cause even at the expense of others’ lives. Racism, our narrator shatteringly learns, is but one form of man’s inhumanity to man. And so, he has hibernated, invisibly, until now, until a stirring in his soul and imagination suggests the possibilities of his own spring.

Propelled largely through its characters’ richly defined verbal personae, the novel is perfectly realized by Joe Morton’s masterful, dramatically distinct vocal embodiments; the protagonist himself is, not surprising, his tour de force. In the end, we experience the sensibility of actor and author as one and the same: a perfect match-up indeed. —Elly Schull Meeks

Publisher's Summary

Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of 20th-century African-American life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching - yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places.

After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience from the hero's high-school days; it then moves quickly to the campus of a "Southern Negro college" and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place.

The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed - as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity and the blindness of others.

Invisible Man is not only a great triumph of storytelling and characterization; it is a profound and uncompromising interpretation of the anomalous position of blacks in American society.

Ralph Ellison was the teacher and mentor of Don Katz, Audible's founder and CEO. Get the full story here.
©1952 Ralph Ellison (P)2010 Random House

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Masterfully written; perfectly narrated

What made the experience of listening to Invisible Man the most enjoyable?

It is a compelling story, full of the suspense and uncertainty that could plague any invisible man. It is also a fascinating guided tour of the main character's feelings: how invisibility feels to him, and how he feels about the fact that he is invisible.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Invisible Man?

The moment when the main character experiences his second major surprise; when he realizes that he had still been running.

What about Joe Morton’s performance did you like?

It was perfect. At no point did I notice that the book was being narrated. I felt all through that the voice I was hearing was that of the main character.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I did not have an "extreme" reaction to the book, but I feel that it is one of the most memorable books that I will ever read.

Any additional comments?

This book is more than a mere good story or complex opinion piece. I feel that to fully appreciate this work, one must be ready to openly contemplate the themes therein.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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How Did This Escape Me?

I've never been one to deplore my lack of quality education in public school. I figured that whatever I missed was likely due to inattentiveness and lack of inquisitiveness on my part; but after reading INVISIBLE MAN, I finally come away insensed! Angry and insensed that this book was not assigned to me as part of my upbringing. Even if I can forgive my public schools, then I must blame my private / public university and well-heeled graduate educations for not at least trying to make me aware that this great literature exploring MY American background exists. While I was raised in the most caucasion of caucasion communities, I feel I should still have been made aware--by somebody!--that I needed to read INVISIBLE MAN!

Well . .. now that I've raved a bit, I must admit that even in grad school I wasn't always the most attentive of students. I was deeply involved in whatever topics were discussed at hand, and I wrote stellar essays, I suppose . . . but I might have been daydreaming the day(s) that Ellison's profound influence on modern literature and social and racial issues was discussed . . . perhaps. What a masterpiece. I will read and study it again, and do all I can to influence persons whose education I hope for to read it and read it well.

By the way, if a reader orders this after reading my rant here, please make sure you listen to the introduction. It helps. The book is exquisitely performed and masterfully written. Not only does it provide an essential piece in one's education, but it's also a great, entertaining, riveting, and even humorous in many ways, read.

40 of 46 people found this review helpful

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You've been waiting, buy it, you won't be sorry...

Ralph Ellison's masterpiece comes to life in the hands and voices of Joe Morton. The author's prose is alive, urgent, commanding of your attention.

This is a reading which perfectly matches narrator to subject matter. Mr. Morton is to be commended for his dazzling ability to traverse generation, race, nationality, gender and regional dialects with ease, often in the same sentence. Many passages which deal with multiple voices, the narrator along with other speakers, are confronted with natural ease and pacing. I found, on several occasions, I had to pleasantly remind myself there was only one person responsible for the many clearly identifiable characters.

Invisible Man's absence from the Audible catalog has finally been rectified, and thankfully it has been given the reading and treatment it deserves.

43 of 50 people found this review helpful

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  • michal
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 03-25-11


This is a difficult book. On the one hand, this is a young man's story and it should be read by young people. The lessons in it are invaluable especially to those who might not have yet become aware of how power works; especially in the United States. I wish I read this just after getting out of high school.

On the other hand, reading The Invisible Man and grasping what it is about is, I think, nearly impossible for a young person. To a young person (like a younger me) Ellison's wisdom would sound, I presume, like the rantings of an old drunk in a dive bar. It's a rollercoaster of things that sound embellished. If such a drunk starts to tell you of the terrible things he's seen and done you look for the exit. And so you put away the book.

Sadly, if we could pay attention to the drunk we would learn things that change our lives--not that Ellison is a drunk in a dive bar; far from it. The world might start appearing in it's true and terrifying colors. But we're too damn young and arrogant to pay attention.

The Invisible Man is a life-changing book in the same way. Reading it when young is impossible, and reading when old excruciating. Brilliantly, this is precisely the dilemma of the protagonist, who doesn't see 'it' until it is too late.

I can't think of a comperable American novel. Gore Vidal was absolutely right in saying that the 'Battle Royale' section in a different novel would make it excellent. In The Invisible Man, it's just one of a series of equally eye-opening vignettes about America and Americans.

And this is not a book just about being black in America. To say so is an injustice to its brilliance. Ellison's insights can and should be generalized to all the relationships between the haves and the have-nots. Most of all, to the power dynamics between the young hungry masses and the old satiated elites. The protagonist's journey is a story of any young person's confrontation with real power. This is Kafka with an AK-47.

37 of 43 people found this review helpful

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I remember seeing this book on my parents' bookshelf when I was a kid. I don't know what made me finally decide to check it out, but I am SO glad that I did! First of all, Ellison's writing is phenomenal. So vivid and bursting with rich, poetic detail. Second, actor Joe Morton's narration was so stunning and passionate, I felt like I was listening to a stage play. His performance was genius! Another reviewer mentioned that this was well worth getting and I couldn't agree more. It's a masterpiece.

Ellison's social commentary is sadly, still applicable today in some ways. But this story is told in a way that doesn't preach to the reader. Just enlightens. It is a fantastic listen--bravo to both Ellison and Morton.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Chaz
  • Macomb, MI, United States
  • 09-23-11

This Great American Novel

Joe Morton lives and breathes this wonderful look into the life of an exceptional American who tells a story of life in this country. We couldn't have had a better, more passionate narrator.

Ellison delivers to us a rare glimpse into the lives of those who truly depict the soul of America and the state of the country in all its savage complexity and psychopathic depravity. The man with no name is all of us. Ellison says, in one book, what many great novelists take their entire careers to say. This is America at the crossroads and at the beginning of modern American civil rights.

It's a great book and a superb production.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

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Wow. Yes, there's anger but also great truth

Wow. This book is over 60 years old and an award winner, and I can't believe I'd never even heard of it. Well, I'm glad I found it, and in a great format read fabulously by Joe Morton.

This is about personal identity, not just about race.....though make no bones about it, it's also about being Black in America, at least at the time Ellison wrote it (1953). Maybe it still applies, though I'm not in any position to say.

The book starts and ends with the protagonist (never referred to by name) saying he is an invisible man living homeless in a cellar, but the bulk of the book is about his experiences going to school in the south, then moving to Harlem, becoming an unexpected orator on the street and being recruited by a supposed colour-blind group known as The Brotherhood (loosely but pretty obviously based on the Communist Party). Those experiences all lead him to realize that he had been trying to gain an identity from everyone else (neighbours, family, school, bosses, compatriots, lovers, acolytes, clergy, even passers by on the street -- when he really needed to stop doing and acting as others wanted and determine his own idea of who he was.

"And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man."

"“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”"

There are some sobering thoughts and powerful ideas in this book, and it probably is worth a second listening, or reading, down the road. I'm sure I missed a few things.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • kd
  • TX, USA
  • 08-26-12

Love Joe Morton

Dense story, but it's a classic. What really made this story for me was Joe Morton's wonderful reading.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • Matthews, NC
  • 11-22-16

A true American classic that I love!

First, thank you Don Katz and Audible for making this novel available to Audible members at no cost. Had I known it was available and narrated by Joe Morton I would have happily used an Audible credit. Next, thank you actor Joe Morton for narrating Invisible Man. It has been almost 15 years since I listened your magnificent voice narrate an audio novel and then it was on tape. You set the standard for narration of audiobooks to which the best today aspire.

At this point I have listened to 5 hours of this 19+ hour audio novel, but I first read Invisible Man during the late fall of 1961 during my first semester in college at UNC-Chapel Hill. That was 55 years ago and it was almost a decade after the novel was first published.

For those who have not listened to or read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man there lies ahead not just a great novel, but a unique one that is literally unlike any other. There is no use looking for comparisons; they do not exist. It is written in the first person of the protagonist who is never identified by any name other than singular pronouns. The novel is as complex as any you will ever encounter. The protagonist is literally invisible (except to some other "Negros"), but he can react to and physically impact through his actions the world around him. The author and the protagonist are black males and the time period begins in the Jim Crow south and moves to the equally, but differently, racist north, so race is a key facet of the novel. But to say race is the only key facet of the novel would be incorrect. Listen to this unique and uniquely beautiful and troubling audio novel narrated by the very best.

The author is of course Ralph Ellison and it is his only novel although he did release two books of essays. The book is best understood as a semi biographical novel. When Ellison began to write Invisible man he was approximately 35 years old and had moved from Alabama to New York City well over a decade earlier (most of his youth was in Oklahoma). WWII had ended and Ellison's involvement with Communism was in his past. He clearly viewed fictional literature as far more than an art form; he viewed it as an instrument for change. Today Ellison is remembered most for this novel and for his teaching at various universities.

Listen and understand the perspective of a black man! By the way, if you have not listened to Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin I highly recommend it and the cost at Audible is $5.95. It presents the a view of horrid racism mixed with some unexpected kindnesses in the Jim Crow south where I grew up better and more completely than any book I have read. I'm white but our closest neighbors and friends were a black family. Black Like Me is raw and real.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Charles
  • Brookline, ma, United States
  • 01-03-13

A Classic that deserves Whispersync!

Would you listen to Invisible Man again? Why?

If Whispersync was available I would be so excited to re-read and add notes! Too many layers for one reading.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful