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Between the World and Me Hardcover – July 14, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of July 2015: Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his thoughtful and influential writing on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. Coates is direct and, as usual, uncommonly insightful and original. There are no wasted words. This is a powerful and exceptional book.--Jon Foro
From School Library Journal
In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. In this short memoir, the Atlantic writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people—a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. From his passionate and deliberate breakdown of the concept of race itself to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coates powerfully sums up the terrible history of the subjugation of black people in the United States. A timely work, this title will resonate with all teens—those who have experienced racism as well as those who have followed the recent news coverage on violence against people of color. Pair with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's All American Boys (S. & S., 2015) for a lively discussion on racism in America. VERDICT This stunning, National Book Award-winning memoir should be required reading for high school students and adults alike.—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal
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But here's the thing: this book isn't about me. It's not trying to tell me what I should do to be a better person or make me feel guilty about things I don't even understand, much less control. It's not trying to fix anything. And if you're reading it that way, I think you're missing a profound experience.
I've never been shown and made to understood the experience of a life so unlike my own as I have with this book. I felt the frustration and fear that Mr. Coates felt growing up black in America. I felt the anger he feels at people who believe that they are white dismissing that experience as so many sour grapes. I felt the hypocrisy of being told not to wear hoodies or play loud music for fear of someone breaking your body.
That's why this book matters. It's not a solution to our race problems or an accurate assessment of the progress of America as a nation. It is not a book about white people and how we should change. It is simply a powerful testament of one man's experience, and an offering of understanding.
I grew up rich, white and privileged in suburban Virginia. I never had to think about my safety, my future or my pride through the lens of my race. I couldn't even begin to conceive of that experience. Ta-Nehisi Coates is the first person to break through that reality of my upbringing and allow me to step into another experience for a little while.
It was life-changing and important.
The subject matter here, however, is what is most important about "Between the World and Me." Coates' uses the experience of young African Americans and his own experiences growing up to create a poetic and impassioned letter to his son and, indeed to the world, about what it means to be a person of color in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. My personal belief is that the issue of race and institutionalized racism is the most important issue we as a country face right now. The events of the past two years have focused a bright light on issues that many of us were only dimly aware of. Or, more accurately, that we knew about but didn't want to face. For those who realize that they MUST be faced, no matter how painful we find them, Coates provides a remarkable first step with this compelling, poetic, and sometimes heartbreaking expressionistic book.
The inability to see what causes pain, even though it is right in front of us, is a very human defense mechanism. But it is a defense mechanism that does not serve any of us or our country well. Empathy and a desire to understand that which we haven't personally experienced but that we know are pernicious facts of modern Anerican life are key to the changes we must make. As an upper-middle class white woman, I've lived through very few of the events and feelings Coates describes in "Between the World and Me." Which is all the more reason for me to read it and recommend it.
This is undoubtedly one of the most important books of the last 50 years. If I could gift a copy to every single American, I would.