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Between the World and Me
     

Between the World and Me

4.2 138
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
 

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#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

Overview

#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

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)

“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 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

“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.”—Toni Morrison

“Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Really powerful and emotional.”—John Legend, The Wall Street Journal

“Extraordinary.”—David Remnick, The New Yorker

“Brilliant . . . a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers.”The Washington Post

“An eloquent blend of history, reportage, and memoir.”The Boston Globe

“[Coates] speaks resolutely and vividly to all of black America.”Los Angeles Times

“A work that’s both titanic and timely . . . the latest essential reading in America’s social canon.”Entertainment Weekly

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michelle Alexander
I had to read Between the World and Me twice before I was able to decide whether Coates actually did what I expected and hoped he would. He did not. Maybe that's a good thing…maybe, just maybe, this is what is most needed right now—a book that offers no answers but instead challenges us to wrestle with the questions on our own. Maybe this is the time for questioning, searching and struggling without really believing the struggle can be won…Whether you agree or disagree, one of the great joys of reading Ta-Nehisi Coates is being challenged in ways you didn't expect or imagine.
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
Inspired by James Baldwin's 1963 classic The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates's new book, Between the World and Me, is a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today…[a] powerful and passionate book…
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/06/2015
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. (July)
From the Publisher
“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.”—Toni Morrison

“Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Really powerful and emotional.”—John Legend, The Wall Street Journal

“Extraordinary . . . [Coates] writes an impassioned letter to his teenage son—a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread—counseling 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, The New Yorker

“Brilliant . . . a riveting meditation on the state of race in America . . . [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.”The Washington Post

“An eloquent blend of history, reportage, and memoir written in the tradition of James Baldwin with echoes of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man . . . It is less a typical memoir of a particular time and place than an autobiography of the black body in America. . . . Coates writes with tenderness, especially of his wife, child, and extended family, and with frankness. . . . Coates’s success, in this book and elsewhere, is due to his lucidity and innate dignity, his respect for himself and for others. He refuses to preach or talk down to white readers or to plead for acceptance: He never wonders why we just can’t all get along. He knows government policies make getting along near impossible.”The Boston Globe

“For someone who proudly calls himself an atheist, Coates gives us a whole lot of ‘Can I get an amen?’ in this slim and essential volume of familial joy and rigorous struggle. . . . [He] has become the most sought-after public intellectual on the issue of race in America, with good reason. 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. . . . [Coates] speaks resolutely and vividly to all of black America.”Los Angeles Times

“A crucial book during this moment of generational awakening.”The New Yorker

“A work that’s both titanic and timely, Between the World and Me is the latest essential reading in America’s social canon.”Entertainment Weekly

“Coates delivers a beautiful lyrical call for consciousness in the face of racial discrimination in America. . . . 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 exhortation against blindness.”The Guardian

“Coates has crafted a deeply moving and poignant letter to his own son. . . . [His] book is a compelling mix of history, analysis and memoir. Between the World and Me is a much-needed artifact to document the times we are living in [from] one of the leading public intellectuals of our generation. . . . The experience of having a sage elder speak directly to you in such lyrical, gorgeous prose—language bursting with the revelatory thought and love of black life—is a beautiful thing.”The Root

“Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away.”Newsday

“Poignant, revelatory and exceedingly wise, Between the World and Me is an essential clarion call to our collective conscience. We ignore it at our own peril.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Masterfully written . . . powerful storytelling.”New York Post

“One of the most riveting and heartfelt books to appear in some time . . . The book achieves a level of clarity and eloquence reminiscent of Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man. . . . The perspective [Coates] brings to American life is one that no responsible citizen or serious scholar can safely ignore.”Foreign Affairs

“Urgent, lyrical, and devastating in its precision, Coates has penned a new classic of our time.”Vogue

“Powerful.”The Economist

“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.”Slate

“The most important book I’ve read in years . . . an illuminating, edifying, educational, inspiring experience.”—Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

“It’s an indescribably enlightening, enraging, important document about being black in America today. Coates is perhaps the best we have, and this book is perhaps the best he’s ever been.”Deadspin

“Vital reading at this moment in America.”U.S. News & World Report

“[Coates] has crafted a highly provocative, thoughtfully presented, and beautifully written narrative. . . . Much of what Coates writes may be difficult for a majority of Americans to process, but that’s the incisive wisdom of it. Read it, think about it, take a deep breath and read it again. The spirit of James Baldwin lives within its pages.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Part memoir, part diary, and wholly necessary, it is precisely the document this country needs right now.”New Republic

“A moving testament to what it means to be black and an American in our troubled age . . . Between the World and Me feels of-the-moment, but like James Baldwin’s celebrated 1963 treatise The Fire Next Time, it stands to become a classic on the subject of race in America.”The Seattle Times

“Riveting . . . Coates delivers a fiery soliloquy dissecting the tradition of the erasure of African-Americans beginning with the deeply personal.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Between the World and Me] is not a Pollyanna, coming-of-age memoir about how idyllic life was growing up in America. It is raw. It is searing. . . . [It’s] a book that should be read and shared by everyone, as it is a story that painfully and honestly explores the age-old question of what it means to grow up black and male in America.”The Baltimore Sun

“A searing indictment of America’s legacy of violence, institutional and otherwise, against blacks.”Chicago Tribune

“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.”—Michael Chabon

“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.”—Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

Library Journal
★ 08/01/2015
In this extended open letter to his young son, Samori, Atlantic national correspondent and senior editor Coates (The Beautiful Struggle) reflects further on his unlikely road to manhood and escape from the maw of America's tradition—nay, heritage—of destroying the black body. Mixing memoir, discourse, and outcry, Coates details what it has meant and what it means to be black in America, especially what it has meant and means to be a black male. His review pays special attention to the American Dream amid the physically painful and exhausting realities of U.S. ghettos from slavery to the killing fields of Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore, where he grew up living in fear. Pleading for his son to understand the struggle even as it shifts in time and place, Coates cautions against illusions that America's racism exists in a distant past that needs not be discussed. VERDICT This powerful little book may well serve as a primer for black parents, particularly those with sons. However, it is also a provocative read for anyone interested in a candid perspective on the headlines and the history of being black in America. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/15.]—Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
School Library Journal
★ 02/01/2016
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
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-05-06
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."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812993547
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/14/2015
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
327
Product dimensions:
4.70(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile:
1090L (what's this?)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

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 name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something else before they were white—­Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish—­and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again. Perhaps they will truly become American and create a nobler basis for their myths. I cannot call it. As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.

The new people are not original in this. Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it. But this banality of violence can never excuse America, because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names. But you and I have never truly had that luxury. I think you know.

I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-­year-­old child whom they were oath-­bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone’s grandmother, on the side of a road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—­race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—­serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

That Sunday, with that host, on that news show, I tried to explain this as best I could within the time allotted. But at the end of the segment, the host flashed a widely shared picture of an eleven-­year-­old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer. Then she asked me about “hope.” And I knew then that I had failed. And I remembered that I had expected to fail. And I wondered again at the indistinct sadness welling up in me. Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm December day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.

This must seem strange to you. We live in a “goal-­oriented” era. Our media vocabulary is full of hot takes, big ideas, and grand theories of everything. But some time ago I rejected magic in all its forms. This rejection was a gift from your grandparents, who never tried to console me with ideas of an afterlife and were skeptical of preordained American glory. In accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, I was freed to truly consider how I wished to live—­specifically, how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men. I have asked the question through my reading and writings, through the music of my youth, through arguments with your grandfather, with your mother, your aunt Janai, your uncle Ben. I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile. The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and girded me against the sheer terror of disembodiment.

And I am afraid. I feel the fear most acutely whenever you leave me. But I was afraid long before you, and in this I was unoriginal. When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid. I had seen this fear all my young life, though I had not always recognized it as such.

It was always right in front of me. The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-­length fur-­collared leathers, which was their armor against their world. They would stand on the corner of Gwynn Oak and Liberty, or Cold Spring and Park Heights, or outside Mondawmin Mall, with their hands dipped in Russell sweats. I think back on those boys now and all I see is fear, and all I see is them girding themselves against the ghosts of the bad old days when the Mississippi mob gathered ’round their grandfathers so that the branches of the black body might be torched, then cut away. The fear lived on in their practiced bop, their slouching denim, their big T‑shirts, the calculated angle of their baseball caps, a catalog of behaviors and garments enlisted to inspire the belief that these boys were in firm possession of everything they desired.

I saw it in their customs of war. I was no older than five, sitting out on the front steps of my home on Woodbrook Avenue, watching two shirtless boys circle each other close and buck shoulders. From then on, I knew that there was a ritual to a street fight, bylaws and codes that, in their very need, attested to all the vulnerability of the black teenage bodies.

I heard the fear in the first music I ever knew, the music that pumped from boom boxes full of grand boast and bluster. The boys who stood out on Garrison and Liberty up on Park Heights loved this music because it told them, against all evidence and odds, that they were masters of their own lives, their own streets, and their own bodies. I saw it in the girls, in their loud laughter, in their gilded bamboo earrings that announced their names thrice over. And I saw it in their brutal language and hard gaze, how they would cut you with their eyes and destroy you with their words for the sin of playing too much. “Keep my name out your mouth,” they would say. I would watch them after school, how they squared off like boxers, vas­elined up, earrings off, Reeboks on, and leaped at each other.

What People are Saying About This

Bryan Stevenson
America's essential author

Many of us have known for years that Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of America's most compelling and thoughtful voices. His timely, provocative and well-researched writings about race and this nation's shameful history of inequality have been essential reading. The Atlantic published his widely distributed “The Case for Reparations” in 2014, and new audiences began to take notice. When his best-selling second book was released last summer, it seemed everyone came to understand that he is the real deal. Between the World and Me is brilliantly structured, insightful and forcefully argued. He navigates the complexities and burdens of race in America compassed by a father's love for his son. But it's the soulful writing that makes the work a classic, prompting Toni Morrison to herald Coates as America's new James Baldwin and the MacArthur Foundation to announce his genius. He claimed the National Book Award for best nonfiction this year, but don't think that this is the culmination of his work. He has much more to say, and we will all be the wiser for reading it. --Bryan Stevenson (founder of the Equal Justice Initiative)

Meet the Author

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow, 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.

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Between the World and Me 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 138 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great step through one man's conscious encounters with race and oppression throughout his life. It's brutal honesty should make it required reading for all Americans, regardless of race or heritage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book great themes perfectfor the issues today
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a beautifully written, sad and heart breaking story!!!! I have always heard, " you don't know until you have walkedin anothers shoes." That was a small, brief peak into not just one persons but a whole race of people's " shoes ". I can only thank you for allowing me into your life, your pain and your struggles. I must admit I feel ashamed. Review by: Pamisue
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful book. Slim but packed with brutal honesty. What everyone needs to hear.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most powerful books I have read. It really shows me a different perspective the what I have seen in my life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very powerful and informative!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unreadable. Not insightful. Sorry this person is filled with such bitternes. May his anguish be turned to joy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All who spam will be REPORTED
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Coates provides an honest, frightening view into the experience of living in the non-"dreamers"America . His painful, powerful observation has changed how I'll view our world going forward.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this somewhere you can rage cry
KateUnger More than 1 year ago
I really struggled to understand this book. It was so foreign. That was kind of the point though. Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing to his son about his struggle to understand what I means to live in his black body. I struggled to understand his struggle. The book is written in a long, flowing letter. It reads like a memoir at times, but more philosophical at other points. It touches on some elements of history, like the Civil War, but most references are to brutal police killings of black men. I had to read this book in complete silence. The writing is beautiful, but it's hard to follow. I kept reading and tried to focus on understanding the overall message, versus the individual sentences. Although there were many amazing statements throughout the book. Ta-Nehisi Coates, an affluent, black writer, fears for his body and the body of his son. He points out that the huge divide in our country is not between the rich and the poor, but between those who are black and those who believe themselves to be white. I was blind to this point before reading this book. I naively assumed that black people who escaped the inner city escaped the violence against them. The continual police murders are showing that this is not the case. It is dangerous to be black everywhere in this country. What I could relate to was his separateness as an atheist and his love for his son. The things he says and the stories he recounts from his son's childhood make it apparent how much he loves his boy. I see why John Green said all young people should read this book. And I'm glad that I read it. For its value to our society, I gave it 4 stars even though it wasn't what I'd call an enjoyable read. What I want to know now is how do we fix our country? Where do we start? http://www.momsradius.com/2015/11/book-review-between-world-and-me.html
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will be reading this again before long. This is a rich, beautiful, powerful book.
CarmanK More than 1 year ago
Powerful story of growing up in America black. As the mother of three white sons, I worried about them doing stupid things and making mistakes in their teen years but I never considered that such lapses could get them dead. This book was an awakening to that reality which consumes mothers of black sons in America. Toni Morrison is right: "this is required reading".
MsLibrarian More than 1 year ago
The writing is transcendent and the ideas are challenging and powerful. I'm deeply grateful to have read this. This book should be studied, discussed, shared, and purchased. I wish every high school senior and person seeking or holding elected office would read it. It is not Mr. Coates's responsibility to offer "solutions" but to impart ideas and the wisdom of his experience as an African American man.
Anonymous 4 days ago
I love to read!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous 13 days ago
Wow
Anonymous 15 days ago
I do not like it'
Anonymous 17 days ago
Deepthroat
Anonymous 30 days ago
Read this first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Before any thing else!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous 3 months ago
&triangle <p> &hearts <p> &star <p> &diamond
Anonymous 5 months ago
Enjoyed and bought copy for my son
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is realy good and i would recomend this to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this essay leads to much thought and real reflection. I found the words and imagery both familiar and alien, but almost always beautiful. A lot of what Mr. Coates says really hit home with me as an agnostic Jew born in LA. A person who has been told and believed he was white for much of my life. I don't know if I agree with the author that the Dream must be exclusive, but if so it must be destroyed and if not it must be made inclusive. One way or another though we all must struggle to learn and understand our place in this American society. Like Mr. Coates, I learned this lesson from my mother. It was the greatest lesson of my life. It was this similarity that struck me in reading this essay. I, the child of white privilege, suburban society and private school on the West Coast, was gifted with the same lesson as Mr. Coates who grew up in different circumstances. It does not mean anything beyond that Mr. Coates and I had great mothers who taught their sons that growth does not come easy but must be constantly fought for. Maybe if we can pass on this lesson then society can change. Probably not, but that does not alleviate our responsibility to try.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Powerful. Great read!