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A New York Times Notable Book, 2015
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.
‘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.'
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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 400 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. An instant classic and a gift to us all.’
‘An artful confrontation with America’s relationship with race…If this isn’t the kind of thing you usually read, pick it up. Necessary reading for the historical moment we’re in.’
‘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.’
‘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 has written a book about immense and ongoing failures of humanity that is a triumph of humanism in itself, a book that renders the injuries of racism brutally near and real.’
‘Part memoir, part diary, and wholly necessary…Coates’s knives are deadly, and they strip away the fat from truths passingly familiar to many but lived by only a few. It is an indictment.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘[An] uncategorizable tour-de-force…Between the World and Me feels as personal as a published work can. Sprawling, discursive, angry, relevant, lyrical…an unrelenting frank work expressed so perfectly that the truth of it resonates with every word.’
‘For years, Coates has been the most honest and important voice on race in America, and his latest book is not just further testament to that fact. It’s one of the most significant memoirs/cultural studies of the year and has all the makings of a modern classic.’
‘[Between the World and Me] is at once a magnification and a distillation of our existence as black people in a country we were not meant to survive. It is a straight tribute to our strength, endurance and grace.’
‘One of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read…Within the first few pages, I was swept up by Coates’ fierce intellect and raging passion as though I’d stepped into a fast-moving current. I read with my heart in my throat and for the final 50 or so pages I cried without stopping. Between the World and Me attests to the power of literature.’
‘A highly provocative, thoughtfully presented, and beautifully written narrative concerning his own misgivings about the ongoing racial struggle in America…Read it, think about it, take a deep breath and read it again. The spirit of James Baldwin lives within its pages.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘A powerful and often lyrical blend of memoir, history and polemic…Coates possesses a profoundly empathetic imagination and a tough intellect…Coates speaks to America, but Australia has reason to listen.’
‘A brilliant book that grapples with both the mind and the heart.’
‘Articulate and devastating.’
‘Powerful and timely.’
‘One of the truest works I have read in a while: honest, arresting, and challenging throughout.’
‘Heartbreaking, confronting, it draws power from understatement in dealing with race in America and the endless wrong-headed concept that whites are somehow entitled to subjugate everyone else.’
‘In our current global landscape it’s an essential perspective, regardless of your standpoint.’
‘Impactful and poignant.’
‘Coates illustrates how black bodies have been discarded and destroyed at every turn in American history, from centuries of slavery to Jim Crow lynchings to the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Coates’ writing is also intensely personal…Between the World and Me opened up a national dialogue about the country’s mythology, forcing an uncomfortable and necessary reassessment of the American dream.’
‘Both a biting interrogation of American history and today’s society and an intimate look at the concerns and hopes a father passes down to his son…There have been many books about race, about violence and institutionalized injustice and identity, and there will be more, but none quite so beautifully shattering as this.‘