Audiobook Review: Self Made

Self Made or On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
by A'Lelia Perry Bundles
Narrated by: A'Lelia Bundles
Length: 16 hrs and 23 mins
Published March 10th 2020 by Simon Schuster Audio


The daughter of slaves, Madam C. J. Walker was orphaned at seven, married at fourteen and widowed at twenty. She spent the better part of the next two decades laboring as a washerwoman for $1.50 a week. Then—with the discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women—everything changed. By her death in 1919, Walker managed to overcome astonishing odds: building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism. Along the way, she formed friendships with great early-twentieth-century political figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.

On Her Own Ground is not only the first comprehensive biography of one of recent history's most amazing entrepreneurs and philanthropists, it is about a woman who is truly an African American icon. Drawn from more than two decades of exhaustive research, the book is enriched by the author's exclusive access to personal letters, records and never-before-seen photographs from the family collection. Bundles also showcases Walker's complex relationship with her daughter, A'Lelia Walker, a celebrated hostess of the Harlem Renaissance and renowned friend to both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. In chapters such as “Freedom Baby,” “Motherless Child,” “Bold Moves” and “Black Metropolis,” Bundles traces her ancestor's improbable rise to the top of an international hair care empire that would be run by four generations of Walker women until its sale in 1985. Along the way, On Her Own Ground reveals surprising insights, tells fascinating stories and dispels many misconceptions.

My Thoughts

My first introduction to Madame C.J. Walker was through the television show called Mysteries as the Museum. The host held up this small tin of hair product and told an interesting but pared-down story of Walker's rise to fame. Having never heard about Walker before, I was fascinated by her story, but also annoyed by the fact that I had never heard her story before. How can somebody that achieved so much be left out of history?

In recent years, however, more stories of well-deserved women are coming to light. I can only imagine how different life could have been if young girls had more positive role models like Madame Walker to look up to in generations past. Thankfully, things are changing for the better, and now there is a Netflix series about Madame C.J. Walker called Self Made. I haven't watched it yet, because I wanted to experience this book first.

Self Made or On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'Lelia Perry Bundles is a well-researched, in-depth book written by Walker's great great granddaughter, A'Lelia Perry Bundles. Bundles has written four books about Walker and this latest book is what inspired the Netflix series. 

I listened to Self Made on audio. And while I thought it interesting, it was a bit too scholarly to enjoy as an audiobook. It read more like a textbook than a biography. Self Made is an excellent resource for learning more about Walker herself and also a great account of the times Walker lived in. I definitely do recommend this as a physical book, just not the audiobook.

Walker was a pioneer of her day and her story demands to be told. I only wish it didn't take so long for it to come to light. We need more stories like this for our girls. I'm sure if I'd had known about Walker's life when I was a kid, it would have made a difference. We need to do better in bringing these stories to the forefront.