In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification 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 the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates' 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 towards 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.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story 'The Case for Reparations'. He lives in New York with his wife and son.
'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.' Kirkus Reviews
‘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' 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.’ Toni Morrison
‘I just finished an advance copy of Between the World and Me, a look at the racial history of our country by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s really powerful and emotional.’ John Legend, Wall Street Journal
‘Extraordinary…Ta-Nehisi Coates…writes an impassioned letter to his teenage son—a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread—counselling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American’s extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.’ David Remnick, New Yorker
‘A searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today…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.’ New York Times
‘Brilliant…[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.’ Washington Post
‘I hope that I will be forgiven, then, for feeling that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking to me, too, one father to another, teaching me that real courage is the courage to be vulnerable, to admit having fallen short of the mark, to stay open-hearted and curious in the face of hate and lies, to remain skeptical when there is so much comfort in easy belief.’ Michael Chabon
‘Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is in the same mode of The Fire Next Time; it is a book designed to wake you up.’ Guardian
‘A bitter and passionate letter…Coates writes with the cadence of poetry, and one reads him as if one were in a black church, where words roll across each other in a language far removed from the aridity of crime statistics or sociological studies.’ Age/Sydney Morning Herald
‘Between the World and Me acts as an important insight into the lives of black people in the US in the 21st century…An important addition to [Coates’] growing and critically acclaimed body of work.’ Australian
‘Part memoir, part story about the killing of unarmed Prince Jones by a US police officer, and part commentary on US current affairs, Between The World and Me seethes between every line. And rightly so.’ Stuff NZ
In the scant space of barely 160 pages, Atlantic national correspondent Coates (The Beautiful Struggle) has composed an immense, multifaceted work. This is a poet's book, revealing the sensibility of a writer to whom words exact words matter. Coates's bildungsroman shows the writer as a young man, in settings that include Baltimore's streets, Howard University's campus, and Paris's boulevards. It's also a journalist's book, not only because it speaks so forcefully to issues of grave interest today, but because of its close attention to fact. (The real-life killing of unarmed Howard student Prince Jones, in 2000, by an undercover police officer gradually becomes a motif, made particularly effective by the fact that Coates knew Jones, and his conversation with Jones's mother, which concludes the book.) Coates intimately presents the text as a letter to his son, both an expression of love and a cautionary tale about "police departments... endowed with the authority to destroy his body." 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
As an African-American living abroad, my memories of the challenges of being black in America have faded somewhat. Reading this book sharpened these up again, and made me wish I had it back then so that I could put my pain into my appropriate perspective.