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Between the World and Me Book Review

07.29.21
Between the World and Me Book Review

While Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates had been on my radar from some time, it was only after interviewing author Cole Brown on my podcast about his Desert Island Books that I went and bought a copy. Towards the end of my conversation with Cole, I asked him which – of the eight books he’d picked – he’d chose, if he only had space for one; and he instantly opted for Between the World and Me; reason enough to make it a priority over and above the other books I had lined up for July.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something so sobering; since Covid first hit almost eighteen months ago, I’ve relied on literature as a form of escapism, and have spent many an evening seeking solace between the pages of a book. And yet, despite its serious subject matter, Between the World and Me is also one of the only books of late that I’ve read in a single sitting; and from its very first page, it’s clear to see why the late, great Toni Morrison hailed it as ‘required reading.’

Between the World and Me Book Review

Written in the form of a letter from Coates to his fifteen-year-old son Samori, Between the World and Me is a powerful and poignant exploration of what is means to grow up Black in modern America. Not dissimilar to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (also one of Cole’s Desert Island Books; also on my current to-be-read pile) – which contains two essays, one of which is called My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation – Between the World and Me is a compelling, challenging and uncomfortable read, which fully deserves its wide critical acclaim.

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At its heart, Between the World and Me is an earnest, sincere, raw, painful and honest letter from a father to a son, that reveals Coates’ fears, frustrations and fury for the world in which his son will grow up, in light of the author’s own experiences. He writes about the endless, senseless murders or the many, many Black men who have lost their lives for nothing more than the colour of their skin; he reminisces about a friend who was murdered by the police, he explores education and privilege and the nuances of the Black lived experience in modern day America.

An infinitely quotable book, the prose is rich and eloquent and beautiful strung together; which offers a stark contrast to the harrowing realities of a life underpinned by racism. Passionate, profound and intensely personal, Between the World and Me is a book that absolutely everybody should read.

My favourite line; the book’s closing sentence: “Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets,”.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates Summary

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?

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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.

Buy Between the World and Me from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

Further reading

I loved this Vanity Fair article on The Beautiful Power of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Author Bio

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.

More Ta-Nehisi Coates books

Ta-Nehisi Coates has also written The Water Dancer, We Were Eight Years in Power and The Beautiful Struggle.

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