In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions 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 questions 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.
First Impressions: I have to be honest here. I knew it had gotten rave reviews, but when I first started reading I had to catch myself almost immediately. I was judging without knowing anything about Coates or his background or his life. I was thinking okay, you’re mad. But I did nothing to you. I know that mindset is wrong, but I think it’s a reflex humans have. To deny the truth when it makes you or your history look bad. I’m just glad I knew I was doing it because I’m sure many people don’t, which then doesn’t open up their minds to different things. I started off taking this book as a personal affront to me.
Final Thoughts: What a powerful book. I mean, as you read above, I caught myself being an asshole. As I read Coates’ story, this letter to his son, I tried to put myself into his shoes. Into his ancestors shoes. And it was painful.
Favorite Part: How the book made me think. How it made me change the way I view the world. I used to be a more passive person, and now I think a lot more about what I can do do make things better.
Goes well with: A strong, thick stout like Guinness or Wolaver’s.
Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coate5
Date of Publication: 2014
Source: Personal Copy