Black History Month Review of “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author was inspired to write Between the World and Me by James Baldwin’s 1963 classic book The Fire Next Time, which Baldwin wrote in the form of letters to his nephew. Here Coates writes to his 15-year-old son Samori, both about what it means to be black in America, and about his overwhelming love – as well as hopes and fears, for Samori.

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Coates frames his rage in poetic verse as he charts his personal growth through the years. Underlying the story is a legacy of fear that he has had to live with, first for his own life, and now for the life of his son, who could be killed at any time just for looking the wrong way or being in the wrong place – in short, for being black.

He explains what has driven the black-on-black violence of street gangs; the appeal of Malcolm X to young disillusioned blacks; the sense of powerlessness that drives both; and most saliently, the disparity between the realities of black and white lives. He talks about both the history of civilization and the history of America in terms of the white-washed patina that has always distorted the role of blacks. He constantly references the American Dream, and how it reflects white lives, even as it was built on the bodies of black lives, who are tempted, confused, and alienated by its unattainability.

Coates tells his son: “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” But ultimately, as Coates further advises him, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

Evaluation: This powerful, riveting testimonial is also a confirmation that the personal is indeed political, especially in a country which is institutionally designed to favor whites over people of color, males over females, straights over gays, and paradoxically, myths over honesty. I consider it essential reading for Americans.

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Published in hardcover by Spiegel & Grau, 2015. Audio version available (215 minutes) from Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, read by the author.

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11 Responses to Black History Month Review of “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  1. Definitely essential reading! I’m expecting to see it pop up on high school curriculums/reading lists before the year is over.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I want to read this soon and I’m hoping I can talk my book club into reading it with me.

  3. litandlife says:

    I’ve put this one on my book club’s list for the year. I’m not the only middle-aged white suburban woman who needs to be educated about the lives of others in this country!

  4. purplemoonmyst says:

    I read this book and was stunned speechless. He can def write!

  5. Laurie C says:

    Yes, I need to read this! I was shooting for this month, also, so I’d better get on it!

  6. Athira says:

    I’m hoping to read this one soon. I did sample a few chapters and loved them. I just need to go grab the book next.

  7. “Essential reading for Americans” is exactly how I feel about this book. I would love it if high schools adopted it as required reading, although of course I know that won’t happen. Even James Baldwin’s nonfiction doesn’t get read that often in HS English classes, and he’s years and years past.

  8. Beth F says:

    I really, really need to read this.

  9. Trish says:

    Even what you’ve written in your Evaluation section is powerful. You’ve pushed me over…just bought a copy!

  10. Completely agree with you. “Essential reading for Americans” is right on!

  11. aartichapati says:

    This was so good! I agree with everything. Have you read Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time? I couldn’t tell in your review, but I think the two complement each other very well. I also recommend Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.

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