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“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” In a profound work that pivots from the biggest uestions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son Ta Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation and today threatened locked up and murdered out of all proportion What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?   Between the World and Me is Ta Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these uestions in a letter to his adolescent son Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences from Howard University to Civil War battlefields from the South Side of Chicago to Paris from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder Beautifully woven from personal narrative reimagined history and fresh emotionally charged reportage Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past bracingly confronts our present and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward


10 thoughts on “Between the World and Me

  1. says:

    Sometime early in my reading of this book I felt in my gut I had encountered a classic Not a best seller—this book is already that—but a classic I envisioned stack upon paperback stack piled on metal shelves in university bookstores shelves labeled Black Studies 301 but also Basic Comp 100 I could see pirated copies of large portions of Part One passed out to high school juniors and seniors to be carefully annotated in AP Language and AP Literature and I could see smaller sections distributed with the customary scaffolding materials to freshmen and sophos in Basic English I and II But even now after the winning of The National Book Award I doubt my own vision Coates book deserves to be a classic just as much as The Life of Frederick Douglass The Souls of Black Folk The Fire Next Time and The Autobiography of Malcolm X—all first class books—deserve it But a classic after all is not only a book of “first class” uality but one that is taught in “class” and Coates book may be too bleak to appeal to educators not to mention schoolboards and parents who prefer books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Secret Life of Bees that agree to temper to dissipate? their truth with the comforts of warmthCoates book presented as an open letter to his teenage son is undoubtedly bleak He grew up on the streets of Balti in the early '90's and describes the experience in physical visceral terms As a black boy growing up in such streets you knew that your body was continually under mortal threat often under attack At any moment your body could be controlled violated by the hands or weapons of another—often by the policemen employed by “the Dreamers” those who define themselves as white in America and wish to preserve for themselves the privileges of the American Dream And you knew that any of these random violations of the body could lead to the ending of your life And if you were a young unbeliever—as Coates was and is—you were conscious that this act would end the only life you would ever knowCoates has no faith in America or in its dream For him unlike Martin Luther King the arc of the moral universe bends not toward justice but chaos The Dream itself is built upon the despoliation and violation of the bodies of black men and women and may only end when it has finally violated and despoiled the entire planet Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could order the mechanized death of our ghettos the mass rape of private prisons then engineer their own forgetting must inevitably plunder much This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasolineOnce the Dream's parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind But the Dreamers have improved themselves and the damming of seas for voltage the extraction of coal the transmuting of oil into food have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent And the revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself But this book is than its bleakness; although it is never hopeful it is earnest honest and aware Coates describes his odyssey from the narrow streets of Balti to the black “Mecca” of Howard University to the diverse neighborhoods of NYC and to his encounter with a profoundly different culture on the boulevards of Paris He welcomes his increasingly wide world with open eyes if not always open arms and his encounters with it deepen—although they do not substantially alter—his perceptions of blackness or the toxic nature of the Dream Finally even his atheism seems to be something like a gift Perhaps it is only by realizing that the body is ultimately all we have that we can finally get our priorities straight stop believing in forms of “magic” like “salvation” or “the Dream” or progress and instead concentrate on making sure that the bodies of all young people are protected and respected so that each may discover the world with her own uniue eyes Between the World and Me is undoubtedly a great book Even if its bleakness prevents it from becoming an official classic there is still a part of my vision that I am sure will come true I see fathers giving copies to their sons mothers to their daughters for generations to come


  2. says:

    I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up this book but that's true of many books I read I simply felt like it was something I needed to read at that moment and I'm very glad I didBetween the World and Me is written as a letteressay from Coates to his fifteen year old son trying to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015 I almost said make sense of what it means but Coates' story is not so much about making sense as it is about finding one's place in a nonsensical context He does not believe there is an answer to race relations He believes as I interpret it that racial conflict is in itself an artificial construct and part of the Dream that keeps one group in power over anotherThis is not a book written to explain the African American experience to white people or as Coates likes to say people who believe they are white As a middle aged white guy I am in no way the intended audience for this book Perhaps that's what made it such an enlightening read for me There was no sugar coating no careful racial diplomacy no worry about mediating opinions to cater to what white people might be able to hear It was just a heartfelt raw painful and honest letter from a father to a son laying plain Coates' worry anger frustration and fear for his son's future in light of Coates' own past and the world his son will grow up in There again I almost said 'the world he will inherit' but Coates would be uick to point out that this is white thinking We grow up believing we can inherit the future of our country whereas African Americans grow up hearing a very different messageCoates' most powerful assertion doing violence to the African American body is an American legacy and tradition It is not a failure of the system It is part of the system As much as may have changed in the past decades the past centuries the basic fear of African American parents remains that their children can be snatched away brutalized killed for the smallest of reasons or no reason at all and too often this violence is never addressed as anything than an unavoidable force of nature like a hurricaneWe all tend to gravitate toward books that reflect our own experience toward characters who look and act the way we do I believe many white readers if they are honest with themselves will think If I'm a white person why should I read a book about African Americans? That doesn't have anything to do with me Whites have the privilege of not thinking about race until some violence flares up on the news and then we think of the issue as a fire to put out not a sign of some endemic problem This was true when I was growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s It was true when I taught in San Francisco in the 90s It's still true here in Boston in the 2010s African Americans don't have the luxury of thinking about race only when it suits them It is an omnipresent fact of life and death It makes their experience of American society fundamentally different and exponentially complicated That's exactly why I'd recommend this book to white readers Our bubble can be pretty thick It is important for us to step outside ourselvesCoates offers no answers easy or otherwise He believes in no grand vision But he offers his son an honest assessment of his own experience and his own evolving thoughts on America That's what rang true to me a father talking candidly and caringly with his son That's common ground I share with the author as different as our experiences may be This is a short book easily finished in a couple of sittings but it packs a punch These issues aren't going away They are only going to become pressing Read the book


  3. says:

    Less than an hour ago on 7262015 I finished reading Ta Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me As I read the last sentence “Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets” I was involuntarily overcome with inexplicable yet wholly warranted emotion Oddly tears my tears tears perhaps I had been locking inside my fatherly bravado for a couple decades came down in their own sheets as thoughts of my child my daughter at fourteen years old still having to face the daemonic vulgarities of a world she had no part in building but would be expected to repair came to life The tears came because Coates in a few pages captured exposed unlocked and translated what so many people of color so many frustrated and frightened parents and so many disenfranchised and nomadic youth found so difficult to dictate and explain For them the feelings were there but the words simply would not come I wept because Coates' story was my story from my early experiences as a student at Morehouse College the Harvard of the South to the wanderer and discoverer of beauty upon the Parisian landscape to accepting my unexpected role as an English teacher in a tough and directionless Balti City to my exploration and rebirth producing who I am todayLike so many I was immediately taken to the oft uoted extensively analyzed and eternally relevant essay The Fire Next Time written in 1962 by James Baldwin as a “letter” to his nephew written I suppose for all the nephews in the world to analyze and digest The similarities between Coates and Baldwin were uncanny and certainly intentional as Between the World was written by Coates to his son as if a continuation to Baldwin’s last line from “The Fire” “And everywhere there is the anguish of being black in a society that at times seems poised on the brink of total racial war” Yes Coates released Between the World and Me several weeks after the ‘unrest’ in Balti at the urging of his publisher a timely and strategically perfect act and as an expose of tumultuous racial injustice and social chaos headlining the evening news the world over He writes “But race is the child of racism not the father” Indeed PerhapsThis is a book that must be read and passed on to the youth to read several times over; a book for universities and secondary schools to add to their bulging curriculum to produce and encourage meaningful dialogue without blame or bias Between the World and Me is a book that should be discussed over scones and tea and bags of potato chips and shared during drives to grandma’s house in the country or the inner city It should be read by all people regardless of color creed nationality or social belief This is a book of substance and timeless relevance It is the book we all know Eagerly and with great expectation I await the next Coates to continue the story between the world and us


  4. says:

    I'll get all of my disclaimers out of the way first I am a fan of TNC but I also resent what he symbolizes He is a great writer in his own right and he has the kind of co signers in publishing and journalism that have offered him a platform that he has rightfully and elouently expanded upon utilized and maximized appropriately and used to catapult himself into the American race dialogue as one of the most prolific writers on race during our generation My resentment of what he symbolizes comes from the absence of the same position and opportunity being afforded any Black American woman writer in our time Essentially my beef with TNC is not really beef with him at all as much as it is beef with the notion that a singular vetted Black male voice has always been and continues to be viewed by non Black readers editors and consumers of racial rhetoric as the only voice that matters when it comes to writing elouently about race and politics and intersectionality All of that said Between the World and Me has some great ideas and lines The critiue that black women are invisible or marginalized in the book is a faulty one; there is Mabel Jones whose powerful testimony and grieving for her son closes the book and codifies the only perspective from which TNC would be able to include a black woman's voice as mother wife There are the women he has loved at The Mecca including his wife There are authors that he includes in his wheelhouse of important influencers Lucille Clifton bell hooks and Toni Morrison Speaking of Toni I do not agree that this book is reuired reading generally I get the comparisons to Baldwin but I am aggravated by them mainly because there is only one Baldwin And Black writers need to be able to make their own legacies without immediate comparisons that perpetuate the limited imagination that America has for usalong with the continual reality that there can only ever be one valid praised Black writer at a time That said I believe the central idea and argument that black bodies are not safe and that protection of them is not a reuirement of realizing the American Dream will be a revelation for non Black readers and a healing affirmation for Black readers who have until now not had their experience considered or regarded as anything other than a figment of their imagination or proof of their nihilism or some other sinister sentiment


  5. says:

    Listen to the audio book if you can


  6. says:

    Simply stunning complicated moving and challenging Absolutely recommend it


  7. says:

    Folks that love Mr Coates will love this book as they'll be able to follow him through a piece that is somewhat indulgent but he certainly won't win new fans or uell his skeptics like myself with this piece of work Coates says that he wanted to write like Baldwin but it just comes across as a unfocused stream of consciousness As a black man who constantly battles with the work of Mr Coates I wanted to give this one a chance as many lament tons of praise on the work but I for one still think that our perceptions of what it means to be a black man in America today are far different my own not being one of privilege but one that gives me much hope than what Mr Coates likes to deal out to his readers


  8. says:

    I thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi starred nods of agreement about how important this book is I mean that just never happens especially with the it book of the moment there are always naysayers and contrarians and people who just don't get what the BFD is Since there's a copy lying around my house I thought I'd check it out the season's it book is rarely just 152 pages and about a topic that interests me so I was excited to participate in the cool thing for once after missing out on Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games and Eat Pray Love and all the rest due to a combination of laziness and snobberyOn some level I was hoping to be the don't believe the hype hater on here but Coates left me disappointed on that front It did take me a little while to get into this but once he got to college I was hooked and couldn't stop even though it was late and I had to get up at 3am to catch a transcontinental flight My main uestion before I read it was What new is there to say? I'd noticed everyone had their panties all in a twist over this book about being black in America and based on what I'd heard I just didn't get what he could've said that seemed so revelatory and newThe answer is not too much really it's the way that he says it Between the World and Me is an intensely personal book that's rooted in deeply felt lived experience As someone who is horrified by our era's obsession with memoir I am occasionally floored when I see what a personal story can do I recently read an essay online by a woman whose father had committed suicide that made me seriously rethink my antipathy towards memoir and my response to this book was similar So often the recounting of personal experience and private feelings comes off as dull narcissistic and unnecessary but on occasion memoir transcends itself and is able to speak to something much larger than one person's life with an authority that nothing else canIt doesn't need to be said but I'll point out anyway that a lot of this book's success has to do with timing White Americans have been able to ignore a lot of this for a long time but recently that's become almost impossible to do In the past two weeks we've heard Sandra Bland's traffic stop and watched Samuel DuBose be murdered before our eyes and the trauma of witnessing these things and the rest from the past year has left pretty much everyone looking for answersThis book did partially answer a huge uestion I've had for years that I'm sure a lot of other uninformed white people have but that's too offensive and embarrassing to ask black parents directly which is What do you tell your kids? When do you tell them? And how do you reassure them that it's going to be alright when as a parent you're supposed to help them feel things will be okay but you're also supposed to be honest and keep them safe? This book is constructed as a letter to Coates's fifteen year old son and the reason it's so satisfying is that it does not err on the side of false comfort and remains honestly bleak It also gave me the uncomfortably excited feeling of access to a perspective I've always wanted to know about but was yeah I'll admit it afraid to askI think pretty often about what makes me an adult and maybe this sounds weird but one of the main things is understanding now what a big deal it is when people die I feel like when I was a kid I didn't uite get that that actually happened and then when I was a teenager I didn't think it was very serious but when I grew up I finally saw that this was it this was huge this was almost the only thing that there was that mattered Between the World and Me's main orientation is corporal it's concerned with what happens to a person's body as ultimately the sole important thing For me this is a helpful way to think about racism I remember one day when I was not so old but not really that young either reading that African American men have much shorter life expectancies than white American men due to health disparities and it was like a light went off and I finally saw what racism was in a different and much truer way than I had before So much discourse about race takes place in these abstract terms that speak about social construction and are preoccupied with the nuance of language and ideas but there is something about a return to the body that blows that away At the end of the day redlining matters because it's created conditions in which black kids are likely than white kids to get hit with a stray bullet while walking to school It sounds foolishly obvious but police brutality and mass incarceration affect people in the most stark and concrete way by ending lives by physically hurting or locking up their bodies Of course there are other reasons why racism is is a problem but Coates's emphasis on the body and his insistence that nothing else matters so much beyond that resonated with meThis is a book that takes our country's sweet language about having a dream and turns it into a bitter mouthful of ashes I'm actually surprised it's so popular because I feel we as Americans crave optimism and promises of solutions and Coates offers neither There's a lot of beauty in the world he says and there are great things about being young gifted and black or whatever but he doesn't believe in any moral arc of the universe tilting toward justice or in any of this getting especially better which according to him spoiler alert will be a moot point anyway soon because we'll all be underwaterA short well written timely book that I along with everyone else recommend


  9. says:

    I received this book free for review from ShelfAwareness in exchange for an honest review Despite the privilege of receiving a free book I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5 star reviewsWritten in the form of a letter from a father to a son Between the World and Me is a detailed crystallization of the state of racism in our country today and its historical roots throughout the entire history of our country My normal review format is to prattle on about positive and negative aspects of a book but in this case I think it's really important to the potential reader that they understand what exactly it is that they're gettingFor those who want a light breezy primer on racism this is not it This is profound and erudite and is the sort of book you could pick apart sentence by sentence for a year and at the end of that year just shake your head in despair What Coates has done like I've never seen before is passionately and profoundly lay out the sad state of race relations in this country The book reads like a PhD thesis as it patiently and methodically makes its points and then proves themThe book is also infinitely uotable I read a few passages aloud to my fiancee and her wide eyed reaction was to simply mouth the word wow Coates strings words together in a most elegant tapestry that forces the reader to think carefully and internalize the grim realities of life as a victim of racism in this country Read so that ye may weep and know the truthPS I hope my review was helpful If it was not then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know I always aim to improve Rob SlavenFacebook


  10. says:

    I've read Coates work in the Atlantic for years now and my fundamental impression of him is unchanged His limited Black liberal anti racist appeals to White guilt illustrate his total inability to escape the narrow racial essentialist vision of Black identity Coates in his book reduces America to basically two categories The Dreamers White Americans and the rest being Black folk This thinking demonstrates such a pedestrian understanding of America especially when considering that the Empire as Coates once correctly refers to this nation is headed by a Black president Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security Coates has no explanation for how the black bodies he often laments are being crushed by law enforcement mechanisms which are under the legal purview of a Black Woman His total lack of effective class analysis further demonstrates that Coates has not evolved past a Martin vs Malcolm understanding of Black America Coates' inability to explain American oppression outside of mere anti black racism is also troubling in its banality No critiue of capitalism that explains why it needs racism and a complete lack of materialist analysis outside the totally unoriginal rhetoric of America was built on our backs Coates' myopic race speak drivel offers no remedy or policy simple grievance and complaint In that way his voice is perfect for our neoliberal age which so perfectly uses identity politics cries for representation in the upper management cue to maintain the Empire There are neither original arguments or thoughts in this book Simply grievance based cries for white attention