BookBrowse Reviews The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Beautiful Struggle

A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates X
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2008, 240 pages
    Jan 2009, 240 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

Buy This Book

About this Book



Memoir. An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us

The color of one's skin is irrelevant. We're all the same. America is striated with cultures, but they are, in the end, combined in the "melting pot." I have always believed, without hesitation or effort, that these statements and the ideas behind them are true. Blissful innocence? Perhaps. Is there anything wrong with these ideas? Maybe not. But are they realistic - are they possible amidst the intricacy of human families and their individual and collective histories and cultures? After reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, I can not be sure that my own breezy confidence in the sameness of us all was not in some part a poor substitute for a more rational understanding of our multicultural nation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to reveal that I am white, female and fairly unexposed to the large urban centers of our country. Though I prefer to stay hidden behind my writing, I find it difficult to discuss this title outside of its connection to me, the individual reader, for the book is all about personal and collective identity. As I turned the pages of Coates's narrative, I could not help but interpret this tale of a tenuous and risky childhood, filled with posturing and calculating, daydreaming and confusion, against my own childhood days. While I bicycled safely alone through my small town neighborhood, Coates was strategizing survival tactics for getting to and from school. While I felt secure and proud to learn about my forefathers arriving in the "New World" seeking freedom and open land, Coates was grappling with slave names and the weight of oppression. Where only laziness or a lack of ability might have stood in my way on the road to academic achievement, Coates faced a multitude of challenges thwarting his scholastic progress, including the base fear of being marked as weak, thereby opening the door to abuse and loss of respect. Though I grew up less than two hours from Coates's Baltimore, our worlds look nothing alike. And to me, that is the value of memoir: the chance to see through someone else's eyes. This book affords that rare opportunity.

Coates's description of his growing years in drug and violence-riddled West Baltimore is simultaneously ugly and beautiful – a glimpse into a city of barely controlled chaos and a portrait of a father clinging and dragging his children into safe adulthoods. The author's honesty is unflagging, revealing flaws in himself just as easily as those he observes in his father, brother, teachers and friends. His language flows from the page to the ear, producing a silent chorus of hip hop rhythms, street speak and African tribal beats in the mind. Though the book's vernacular may not be familiar to everyone – I confess to needing a dictionary for many terms and phrases – Coates's relaxed and rhythmic language creates a lasting impression. The Beautiful Struggle is a compelling blend of family memoir and social commentary, a book worthy of a wide audience.

Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie

This review was originally published in June 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Names They Used for God
    All the Names They Used for God
    by Anjali Sachdeva
    Pre-publication press has already compared Anjali Sachdeva to Kelly Link and other genre-blending ...
  • Book Jacket: Look Alive Out There
    Look Alive Out There
    by Sloane Crosley
    After a brief (and thoroughly enjoyable) foray into fiction (with her 2015 novel The Clasp), Sloane ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.