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The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood Hardcover – May 6, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 136 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Coates grew up in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, subject to the same temptations as other young black boys. But he had a father in the household, a man steeped in race consciousness and willing to go to any lengths—including beatings—to keep his sons on the right path. With sharp cultural observations and emotional depth, Coates recalls an adolescence of surreptitiously standing on corners eying girls, drinking fifths, and earning reps, mindful of his father’s admonition about the Knowledge. Central to the Knowledge was the need to confront fears and bullies and beat them in order to live in peace. For a while, his own style was to “talk and duck”; later he found places to be himself in African drumming and writing. The Knowledge focused on alternative paths for race-conscious black men, respectful of the broader culture, but always a bit on the margins. His father had balanced his own life between square jobs and a black book publishing enterprise. As Coates grew up, he replaced his comic books with his father’s collection of classic literature on the race struggle and found his own way. A beautifully written, loving portrait of a strong father bringing his sons to manhood. --Vanessa Bush

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Praise for The Beautiful Struggle

 “I grew up in a Maryland that lay years, miles and worlds away from the one whose summers and sorrows Ta-Nehisi Coates evokes in this memoir with such tenderness and science; and the greatest proof of the power of this work is the way that, reading it, I felt that time, distance and barriers of race and class meant nothing. That in telling his story he was telling my own story, for me.”
-- Michael Chabon, bestselling author of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

"Ta-Nehisi Coates is the young James Joyce of the hip hop generation." -- Walter Mosley

“Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Beautiful Struggle is a compelling story told in a musical voice about the author’s father, a proud black man and revolutionary, struggling to raise his family in the ashes of the revolution.  A timely story of family, tough love, and courage.”  
— Flores Forbes, author of Will You Die With Me?: My Life and the Black Panther Party

“A beautiful journey.  A voice rich in detail, Coates is lyrical and clever. As he navigates through a slice of urban American, we root for him as he fumbles and finds purpose. This debut establishes Coates are one of the most luminous storytellers of his generation.”
— Natalie Y. Moore, author Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation

"A beautiful story of manhood from a beautiful American city, where emotions fall as hard as rain and can prove to be just as cleansing. But the most remarkable thing in The Beautiful Struggle is the voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates, which lingers in the ear. A find you're not likely to forget." 
                                                                        –Neely Tucker, author of Love in the Driest Season

 “With humor, grace, and an impressive reserve of compassion, Ta-Nehisi Coates has crafted a great gift of a book.  The Beautiful Struggle should be required reading for black boys — and those who are raising one.” 

--William Jelani Cobb, author of The Devil and Dave Chappelle

“[A] compact, young-voiced, old-souled book…its voice is prophetic.”

--Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520362
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stacia L. Brown on June 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've never read a memoir quite like this one. Ta-Nehisi talks about his parents' patented "look of Not Playing" and calls the bullies from rival neighborhoods "orcs," immediately evoking faceless, hooded menaces, as chilling on the page as they likely were as he tried to outrun them, growing up. He calls Howard University "Mecca." Street smarts are The Knowledge. Tribal rites of passage you usually only read about in books on African History or see on documentaries take place on the streets DC and Northern Virginia.

The Beautiful Struggle is like an urban Pilgrim's Progress, a hip-hop infused allegory about how to survive Baltimorean boyhood, about how to overcome academic mediocrity, about how to stop acting as your own eclipse and finding some way--any way--to shine.

It feels nonlinear and random at turns, but even at its most tangential, it holds your attention and nearly every page contains a sentence so lush or confessional you can't help but envy its construction.

Dude's the real deal. Read it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ta-Nehisi Coates introduces readers to a new and intriguing coming-of-age story, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and An Unlikely Road to Manhood that takes place in Baltimore during the height of the Hip-Hop and Drug era. Paul Coates was a Vietnam Veteran who returned to the chaotic streets of Baltimore and became a leader in the city's Black Panther Party. Armed with determination, Paul Coates was a disciplinarian that strived for success and knowledge. Ta-Nehisi discusses his father's emphasis on knowledge and understanding your history in order to succeed. Ta-Nehisi admits to struggling in school as he attempted to find his way; yet he maintained the teachings of his father. He also discusses the path chosen by an older brother that teetered on self-destruction and then recovery.

Paul Coates' story is very refreshing. It is not the story of a former Black Panther but of a father's determination to raise his sons. Armed with knowledge, consciousness, common sense and self-worth, Ta-Nehisi Coates tells of his failures and triumphs into man-hood that were guided by his father and aided by his mother and teachers. Though his father was strict, you could feel the love in all of his actions. Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing style is simplistic and engaging. Each page encourages you to continue to the next. Everyone that reads it will appreciate this story but it is especially recommended for young men and those raising young men.

Reviewed by: Priscilla C. Johnson
APOOO BookClub
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Format: Hardcover
You know, as one escalates in age, but in particularly, in maturity with a little dose of wisdom and a touch of discernment, you begin to look at your parents as multi dimensional people. You realize, no they were not put on this earth to make your life miserable and without even consciously realizing it, the life lessons they taught you, the pitfalls they tried to keep you from falling into, become your reality. Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned a memoir for the hip hop( the ORIGINAL hip hop) generation. What I appreciated about Mr. Coates recollection of his childhood and coming of age tale was the fact that he didn't try to explain, defend or deny his father. He simply opened the door to the portals of ones mind, so that we can see the trials and triumphs of an american family. I appreciate Mr. Coates forth rightness about his father's inability to me faithful to any one woman, and how that may or may not have affected him. One of the most humorous passages of the book is when the elder Coates has enlisted Ta-Nehisi to go through the labyrinth of books and pamphlets in the garage and he proceeds to write line by line what Ta-Nehisi did or didn't do even down to Ta-Nehisi playing with his younger brother! That was classic! A heart wrenching passage is when the younger Mr. Coates shares with the reader his fathers utter disappointment and advising him of how he has shamed the Coates name. I will never forget, Ta-Nehisi advising the reader that no matter what you have heard about black men/boys, they do not want to fail or be deemed as a failure. This to me is one of the best memoirs for our generation and generations to come. I look forward to hearing more from this man.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unlike any contemporary memoir I have read. Few memoirs are so elegantly written. Few memoirs really get into the gritty muck of American race and the inconvenient truths about racism in America and how it is lived by people of color. The writer is a clear-eyed observer to what goes on around him and renders events in a powerful narrative. It is masterful storytelling and a courageous tale of struggle, though it is not all beautiful.Still, it is necessary.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read Between the World and Me and was impressed. So I purchased The Beautiful Struggle, Coates' earlier work. It is a beautiful book about sometimes ugly struggles. And I got the original cover! I am almost through with the book but want to be fully able to enjoy where it is going to lead, so I am taking my time with it.

A few days later:
WoW! I just finished the last few pages. The tales of growing up and surviving is very much as it has always been for black youth, even those who are "shielded". I spoke to a young man yesterday and he confessed how scared he is just going about his life. I see him at work every day. He is tall, dark, and handsome! He has a beautiful smile coupled with an authoritatively deep voice for one so young. He code-switches seamlessly. But he also has glittery studs; one in each ear. He has the easy laugh, and swagger of a confident, athletic, intelligent black man. But he is a YOUNG man and grateful to have survived thus far. Many would see his tall, strong frame and sometimes serious look as a threat. Why? Because he is being a person? He can still get up every day and try to not seem that way, even if it were warranted. He wants to work, play, love, and live the same as any human being may aspire to JUST BE. And he has every right to struggle beautifully as we all do.
The end of the book especially moved me because of the young Coates' love affair with his djembe drum. The Talking Drum. When he rhapsodies about their relationship, I got chills remembering its call causing me to jump from my seat - at a performance - and MOVE when the lead drummer approached me musically demanding I do so.
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