Summary and book reviews of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates X
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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  • Published:
    Jul 2015, 160 pages

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Book Summary

A bold and personal literary exploration of America's racial history by "the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States" (The New York Observer)

"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 the one hundred fifty years since the end of the Civil War and the ratificiation of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: It is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country's foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up, and killed in our streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all - regardless of race - honestly reckon with our country's fraught racial history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son - and readers - the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences: immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; engagement with history, poetry, and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children's lives have been taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path toward a kind of liberation - a journey from fear and confusion to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is.

Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America's history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.

I.

. . . we sprawl in gray chains in a place full of winters when what we want is the sun

Amira Baraka, "Ka Ba"

Son,

Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.

The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America's progress, or rather the ...

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    National Book Awards
    2015

Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times

Mr. Coates's expressionistic book is a sequel of sorts and a bookend to The Beautiful Struggle, his evocative 2008 memoir of growing up in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam vet and former Black Panther - as compelling a portrait of a father-son relationship as Martin Amis's Experience or Geoffrey Wolff's The Duke of Deception, and a showcase for Mr. Coates's emotional reach as a writer and his both lyric and gritty prose.

The Washington Post

Brilliant . . . [Ta-Nehisi Coates] is firing on all cylinders, and it is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers at the very moment national events most conform to his vision

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Immense, multifaceted...This is a poet's book, revealing the sensibility of a writer to whom words - exact words - matter...As a meditation on race in America, haunted by the bodies of black men, women, and children, Coates's compelling, indeed stunning, work is rare in its power to make you want to slow down and read every word. This is a book that will be hailed as a classic of our time.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The powerful story of a father's past and a son's future...Coates offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son's life...This moving, potent testament might have been titled Black Lives Matter.

The Guardian (UK)

I admired how Coates refrains from outright condemnations of the American experiment, wanting to wrestle with it rather than destroy it. Throughout he resists the urge to tie up these ugly complexities with anything pat, delivering a perspective, in many ways, that you could call post-cynical.

Author Blurb Toni Morrison
I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates's journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.

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