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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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“Ta-Nehisi Coates has published a collection of the major magazine essays he wrote throughout the Obama years. . . . But Coates adds an unexpected element that renders We Were Eight Years in Power both new and revealing. Interspersed among the essays are introductory personal reflections. . . . Together, these introspections are the inside story of a writer at work, with all the fears, insecurities, influences, insights and blind spots that the craft demands. . . . I would have continued reading Coates during a Hillary Clinton administration, hoping in particular that he’d finally write the great Civil War history already scattered throughout his work. Yet reading him now feels more urgent, with the bar set higher.”—Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post
“Essential . . . Coates’s probing essays about race, politics, and history became necessary ballast for this nation’s gravity-defying moment.” —The Boston Globe
“Biting cultural and political analysis from the award-winning journalist . . . [Ta-Nehisi Coates] reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its jarring aftermath, and his own evolution as a writer in eight stunningly incisive essays. . . . He contextualizes each piece with candid personal revelations, making the volume a melding of memoir and critique. . . . Emotionally charged, deftly crafted, and urgently relevant.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Coates’s collection of his essays from the past decade examine the recurrence of certain themes in the black community, the need for uplift and self-reliance, the debate between liberals and conservatives about the right approach to racism, and the virulent reaction in some quarters to any signs of racial progress. . . . As he charts social changes, Coates also offers a fascinating look at his own transformation as a black man and a writer. Before each essay, Coates provides context in light of recent political developments. . . . Coates’s always sharp commentary is particularly insightful as each day brings a new upset to the cultural and political landscape laid during the term of the nation’s first black president. . . . Coates is a crucial voice in the public discussion of race and equality, and readers will be eager for his take on where we stand now and why.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Though the essays are about a particular period, Coates’s themes reflect broader social and political phenomena. It’s this timeless timeliness—reminiscent of the work of George Orwell and James Baldwin—that makes Coates worth reading again and again.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His book Between the World and Me won the National Book Award in 2015. Coates is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.
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This incomplete & halted era of reconstruction is the framework against which Ta-Nehisi Coates sets his book. He pulls eight essays written around the eight years of the Obama presidency, and shows how "the symbolic power of Barack Obama's presidency - that whiteness was no longer strong enough to prevent peons from taking up residence in the castle - assaulted the most deeply rooted notions of white supremacy and instilled fear in its adherents and beneficiaries."
The essays chosen for the book tackle a myriad of topics: the erasure of black history, mass incarceration, what it means to be black in the public eye, and, in my opinion the most compelling essay of them all, the case for reparations. Coates provides notes before each essay, explaining the context in which they were written, why they were relevant then, and why they are relevant now. The book shows an evolution, both in Coates' writing and thought, but also in the national conversation surrounding race, swirling towards the final chapter & epilogue, in which Donald Trump, the main force behind birtherism and much of the racist drum-beating, has been elected president.
This book is brilliantly written, incisive, and extremely relevant. Read it with your families, use it in your classrooms, and give copies to your friends.
All the essays are solid, and both enlightening and deeply thought-provoking. Some of the essays stand up better than others. But even when the essay is not one of Coates's best--e.g. the essay on Michelle Obama ("American Girl")--the fact that Coates foregrounds and frames the individual essays with an incisive, recent introductory 'Notes' section both puts each essay in perspective and ties the collection together.
There is nothing in here that is not worth reading and thinking hard about. (I mean that; it's not a throwaway line.) Coates thinks more deeply and writes more clearly about the national tragedy and disgrace that is our collective failure to confront the history and legacy of White Supremacy than just about anyone. Anyone who hopes to understand the roots of the current Confederate statue removal fights and to see why--yes--this is an issue that is hugely consequential needs to read "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War." (Pair it with SLAVERY'S CAPITALISM if you can; the result is, in a word, stunning.). "Fear of a Black President" is also powerful, and disquieting.
I have used "The Case for Reparations" in several (different) college classes. Watching the students 'get it' and respond just doesn't get old. It has been life-changing for some of them.
I recommend this collection. In fact, I can't recommend it highly enough.
We Were Eight Years in Power is one of those books I have finished, put down, am contemplating and will pick up again to re-read because I'm sure I missed important information the first time around. Especially that Epilogue. Maybe you should begin with it. If nothing else moves us to participate in the US election system, it will.
FYI: I paired "Eight Years" with "A. Lincoln" by Ronald C.White, Jr. and "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. It takes awhile to get through all three books, but it is well worth it as they compliment each other.
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No prizes for guessing that my pick goes to Ta-Nehisi Coates'
"WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY'.Read more