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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A powerful study of how to bear witness in a moment when America is being called to do the same.”—Time
James Baldwin grew disillusioned by the failure of the civil rights movement to force America to confront its lies about race. What can we learn from his struggle in our own moment?
One of the Best Books of the Year: Time, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune • One of Esquire’s Best Biographies of All Time • Winner of the Stowe Prize • Shortlisted for the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice
“Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”—James Baldwin
Begin Again is one of the great books on James Baldwin and a powerful reckoning with America’s ongoing failure to confront the lies it tells itself about race. Just as in Baldwin’s “after times,” argues Eddie S. Glaude Jr., when white Americans met the civil rights movement’s call for truth and justice with blind rage and the murders of movement leaders, so in our moment were the Obama presidency and the birth of Black Lives Matter answered with the ascendance of Trump and the violent resurgence of white nationalism.
In these brilliant and stirring pages, Glaude finds hope and guidance in Baldwin as he mixes biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered Baldwin interviews—with history, memoir, and poignant analysis of our current moment to reveal the painful cycle of Black resistance and white retrenchment. As Glaude bears witness to the difficult truth of racism’s continued grip on the national soul, Begin Again is a searing exploration of the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We’re living through a crucial era for racial justice in the United States. Will we rise to the occasion, or will we falter—again? Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a Princeton professor of African American studies, takes an unblinking look at race in America with this inventive book, which is both a critical appraisal of author James Baldwin and a deeply reflective memoir. Baldwin described the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and the years that followed the Civil Rights movement as “after times”—two different eras when white supremacy rose up to push back against strides made by Black Americans. Glaude argues that the Trump administration is another After Time: a reaction to America’s first Black president. He draws fascinating parallels between how his own thinking about America has evolved and Baldwin’s increasing radicalism during the 1960s. Challenging and thought-provoking, Begin Again makes a stirring case that the promise of the United States can’t truly be fulfilled until its citizens learn from the country’s past mistakes.
This erudite take frames the election of Donald Trump to replace America's first black president as a "betrayal" analogous to the rise of Richard Nixon's "so-called silent majority" following the collapse of the civil rights movement and looks to James Baldwin's post-1968 writings for lessons in navigating the current political moment. Princeton University professor Glaude (Democracy in Black) explores how Baldwin's focus shifted from "the gaze of white America" to the "well-being and future of black people" in his later work, including No Name in the Street (1972) and the documentary film I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982), and contends that living in Istanbul gave Baldwin the privacy necessary to "reimagine hope" in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Glaude also details Baldwin's complex relationship with the Black Power movement and his "prescient view" of the impact of mass incarceration on African-Americans. Applying these insights to the Black Lives Matter movement, debates over the removal of Confederate monuments, and modern-day identity politics, Glaude at times seems to be trying to fit three books into one. Nevertheless, he makes an effective and impassioned case for those dismayed by Trumpism to remain committed to building "a genuine democratic community where we all can flourish." Progressives and fans of Baldwin's work will savor this perceptive reappraisal.