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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
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Coates uses his youth, his journey into manhood, his personal tragedies and his struggle to find his voice as a writer as a vehicle to reflect on what it means to be a black male in America. The book is crafted as a letter to his son, making it a more intimate and personal journey. That intimacy and humanization extends beyond Coates to the victims and survivors of racism. Coates forces to you reflect on the individuality, potential and preciousness of every life impacted by the Middle Passage, Bloody Sunday or killer cops.
He is not optimistic, but he's not a cynic, either. I was worried that this book would leave me feeling sad, angry, hurt. Instead, I feel strangely proud. He sees where we fail as a nation, but points out how black people have and will continue to survive as a people. And he calls on those who have benefited from America's systemic racism to do better or face their own future downfall.
To sum it up, Toni Morrison describes this book best: "This is required reading."
Top international reviews
Ta-Nehisi Coates does an excellent job of explaining what it is to grow up in America without that privilege. In clear prose he tells the story of his life. He clearly lays out how living in America as a black man means living under the threat of having your body broken.
Part of what makes this book so compelling is that Coates is writing to his son. Imagining having to have a similar conversation with my son is heartbreaking. I've read again and again about these conversations, but Coates manages to make it real in a way that I haven't experienced before.
Coates talks time and again about using writing as a way of interrogating himself and the world around him, of asking questions and exploring possible answers. What shows through more than anything in this book is a relentless search for the answers.
As a result, this book is more open than many essays. Coates shies away from the easy Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model. Instead the book is a series of questions. These questions lead to books, conversations, events. These provide some answers, but also open the door to yet more questions.
There are no definitive conclusions here, which is fitting for a book that is written from a father to his son. The book is an invitation to keep searching for the answers, to keep working to find a way to a world in which no one has to live in fear of their body being stolen, broken and destroyed.
The book gives us Coates’ honest thoughts on many important issues – on race, racism, poverty, deprivation, privilege and its abuse, police brutality. He documents his own personal experiences. He tells us of the experience of his friends and family. We see detail and pain and suffering.
Above all, Coates is a student of life (he was taught to inspect reality and find his own truths by his mother). He is an observer and someone who wishes to plunge the depths. He has insights. He has worked hard to understand how he feels as a black man in a black skin.
He wishes that more progress had been made so that the advice he could give to his son would be more positive - that the issues he struggled with growing up would be less present today. That is not the case. There is little light on the horizon, not none at all, just very little. There has been very little progress since the days of slavery.
Coates explains the pervasive fear he has always experienced for his own body – that at any moment his life could be taken on the streets. When his son was born he felt the same terror for his own child.
He discovered the beauty of black heritage, so absent in the media and schools. This was a discovery he made at Howard University, where the diverse black fraternity was alive with debate and dynamism and talent.
He became a reporter and said, “…the softness that once made me a target now compelled people to trust me with their stories…”. I liked that line a lot.
He tells us “…for 250 years black people were born into chains…”
“…transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold” – the founding wealth of America
“…the truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear….”
I resonated with much of what Coates had to say. It’s a timely piece, sobering and brutally honest.
Coates himself says that he has struggled with expressing love and softness to his son (my words) because he has been too terrorized by his own inability to secure the safety of his son on the streets, such that, every moment of life, he is fearful of loss and tragedy. This was the powerful lesson I took away from this book. The flip side, in terms of the writing, is that I had expected more warmth and a more personal nature to the letters. As I was reading, I rather felt that the author was speaking directly to the reader. This was not negative, in fact it was powerful, but it was not the expectation raised by the book blurb.
In terms of presentation, I have to say that I think the publisher would have been better to split the three letters into smaller sections, to give the reader time to breathe. Do not let this put you off!
As I said, a timely piece, sobering and brutally honest
I have admired Coates writing since reading him in the Atlantic. He writes with beauty, poetically getting to the heart of matters with originality and insight. He does not unearth facts but makes his telling points with anecdotes and observations. This makes it more, rather than less, effective. He does not argue with the reader but confronts him with an unarguable emotional case that rings true.
And Coates is mad, and justifiably so. He rubs our noses in racism and holds our heads down until we can't stand it. I doubt that anyone who reads this book will ever feel the same about race, and for this we have the brilliant Coates to thank.
A worthy winner of the National Book Award
As you may know, this book speaks about race in America, starting from the days of slavery till now, to provide us with this viewpoint that makes the reader understand ‘what it is like to inhabit a black body.’
It's almost like a personal diary from Coates to his son explaining how it is we have come to the state we are in, and to offer consolation to his son through it.
This is such a beautifully written book. I love that the author was able to write with such clarity that enabled the reader to really be put in a black person's shoes. To understand their culture and to comprehend that the root cause of it all is fear that is driving these people forward as it is their only means of survival. Terrifying fear where your guard is up 24/8 because you know that as soon as you step out into that world you have a target, set and ready, on your back, which translates to a harshness and power within an individual that is at its essence, fear. And Coates lets the reader (and his son) view this fear through his eyes, his upbringing and experiences and understanding of the world.
I was just on the constant verge of tears, whether it was out of anger or sadness, because what else are you meant to feel when you know that a specific group of people are completely broken down due to the colour of their skin? Yet, he speaks on understanding the 'white’ mentality. This book is full of empathy, it seeps out of every word, every sentence that is constructed
He speaks on identity, the social construct of races, the all American Dream that is a facade and build on the back of slavery, police brutality and the concept of whiteness.
It's not all doom and gloom. There is hope, there has to be and he shares beautiful moments in his life where barriers within himself are broken and clarity poured in, that the world is much more than America and its toxic narrative/lifestyle and the simple wonders of life that we take for granted.
I know that this is a book that I'll casually flick through every now again. I've filled it with my thoughts, which I'll probably have to add to as my perspective of this world changes and my own understanding grows. It was truly an an eye-opening read. I feel invigorated and my mind is more curious, hungry and eager to find out more.
For anyone with the courage to take the red pill and wake from their ignorance.
A must read for all those interested in current events regarding race politics and the history of races and of both 'blackess' and 'whiteness'. this is an incredible book by Ta-Nehisi Coates which is an incredible book written to his children regarding the reality of race as seen by Coates.
the book delves into the reality of differing situations from police brutality and how Coates grew up.
the book really is an incredible read.