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Between the World and Me
Cover of Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me
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Hailed by Toni Morrison as "required reading," 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...
Hailed by Toni Morrison as "required reading," 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...
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  • Hailed by Toni Morrison as "required reading," 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)
    #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER | NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNER | PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST | NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST | NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review
  • O: The Oprah Magazine
  • The Washington Post
  • People
  • Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • Los Angeles Times
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Chicago Tribune
  • New York
  • Newsday • Library Journal
  • Publishers Weekly

    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.
    Praise for Between the World and Me
    "Powerful . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
    "Eloquent . . . in the tradition of James Baldwin with echoes of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man . . . an autobiography of the black body in America."The Boston Globe
    "Brilliant . . . [Coates] is firing on all cylinders."The Washington Post
    "Urgent, lyrical, and devastating . . . a new classic of our time."Vogue
    "A crucial book during this moment of generational awakening."The New Yorker
    "Titanic and timely . . . essential reading."Entertainment Weekly
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    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 progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the rec­ord of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.

    There is nothing extreme in this statement. Americans deify democracy in a way that allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God. But democracy is a forgiving God and America's heresies--­torture, theft, enslavement--­are so common among individuals and nations that none can declare themselves immune. In fact, Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God. When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth," he was not merely being aspirational; at the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant "government of the people" but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term "people" to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. Thus America's problem is not its betrayal of "government of the people," but the means by which "the people" acquired their names.

    This leads us to another equally important ideal, one that Americans implicitly accept but to which they make no conscious claim. Americans believe in the reality of "race" as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism--­the need to ascribe bone-­deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them--­inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

    But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming "the people" has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible--­this is the new idea at the heart of this new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.

    These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new...

About the Author-

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His book Between the World and Me won the National Book Award in 2015. Coates is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 6, 2015
    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. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis Literary Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 1, 2015
    The powerful story of a father's past and a son's future. Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) 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. "I am wounded," he writes. "I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next." Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. "I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked," he remembers, "but powerfully afraid." His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, "had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people." He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand "that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white." Coates refers repeatedly to whites' insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now "that nothing so essentialist as race" divides people, but rather "the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do." After he married, the author's world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America's exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that "race" does not fully explain "the breach between the world and me," yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by "majoritarian bandits." Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live "apart from fear-even apart from me." This moving, potent testament might have been titled "Black Lives Matter." Or: "An American Tragedy."

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    May 15, 2015
    Not for nothing is this book BISACed as memoir, history, and race and discrimination; "Atlantic Monthly" senior editor Coates ("The Beautiful Struggle") looks at America's "long war on black people" not only to understand himself but to clarify the continuing role race plays in this country today.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2016

    In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. In this short memoir, the Atlantic writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people-a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. From his passionate and deliberate breakdown of the concept of race itself to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coates powerfully sums up the terrible history of the subjugation of black people in the United States. A timely work, this title will resonate with all teens-those who have experienced racism as well as those who have followed the recent news coverage on violence against people of color. Pair with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's All American Boys (S. & S., 2015) for a lively discussion on racism in America. VERDICT This stunning, National Book Award-winning memoir should be required reading for high school students and adults alike.-Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today."
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns "Ta-Nehisi Coates is the James Baldwin of our era, and this is his cri de coeur. A brilliant thinker at the top of his powers, he has distilled four hundred years of history and his own anguish and wisdom into a prayer for his beloved son and an invocation to the conscience of his country. Between the World and Me is an instant classic and a gift to us all."
  • Michael Chabon "I know that this book is addressed to the author's son, and by obvious analogy to all boys and young men of color as they pass, inexorably, into harm's way. 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, to acknowledge the limits of our power to protect our children from harm and, hardest of all, to see how the burden of our need to protect becomes a burden on them, one that we must, sooner or later, have the wisdom and the awful courage to surrender."
  • Slate "A work of rare beauty and revelatory honesty . . . Between the World and Me is a love letter written in a moral emergency, one that Coates exposes with the precision of an autopsy and the force of an exorcism. . . . Coates is frequently lauded as one of America's most important writers on the subject of race today, but this in fact undersells him: Coates is one of America's most important writers on the subject of America today. . . . [He's] a polymath whose breadth of knowledge on matters ranging from literature to pop culture to French philosophy to the Civil War bleeds through every page of his book, distilled into profound moments of discovery, immensely erudite but never showy."
  • 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."

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