Life Changing

15 reviews

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Published: 2015-07-14
Hardcover : 176 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 12 of 15 members
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)

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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

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of July 2015: Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his thoughtful and influential writing on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. Coates is direct and, as usual, uncommonly insightful and original. There are no wasted words. This is a powerful and exceptional book.--Jon Foro


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Discussion Questions

1. Why did Coates use manhood as an overlying theme? Would it have been less, equally, or more effective for him to incorporate the black female struggle as well into this text?

2. Can this book also be seen as a plea for education reform? When Coates says that “the schools were not concerned with curiosity,” but rather with “compliance,” what does that tell us about how the educational institution in America perpetuates racial injustice?

3. Rather than categorizing people as either good or bad in two distinct categories, it is clear that Coates speaks of humans as having pure and dark intentions and actions simultaneously. It is not the bad white people vs the good black people. That being said, how does Coates speak of humanity and its complexities? Give examples.

4. Coates refers to the word “people” as a political term and frequently references white people as those who “believe themselves white.” What can this kind of dissociation from race do as the United States progresses? Moving forward, how can reminding people that race is purely a social construct aid in this fight?

5. Throughout the reading, there is a very clear theme of disembodiment as he discusses the “system that makes your body breakable” (pg 18). He also, however, says that “our bodies are ourselves, that (his) soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that (his) spirit is (his) flesh” (pg 79). What does this mean for the black community as a whole? When he references bodies being broken, is he really referencing the souls and spirits of the black community being crushed by the American social structure?

6. What are the different aspects of the American Dream, or “the Dream,” as Coates calls it, that are discussed in this literature? How are they problematic?

7. On pg. 78, Coates speaks of the recent talk about “diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras.” He says that “these are all fine and applicable, but that (they) understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them.” If speaking about diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras allows the American people to dissociate racism from themselves, what is it that we should be discussing? How can we make the American people face the racial injustices and prejudices that still exist?

8. Coates says that he not only cannot tell his son it is going to be okay, he cannot even tell him that it might be okay. “The struggle is really all I have for you,” he tells his son, “because it is the only portion of this world under your control.” That being said, in general, is this text hopeful? Or is it pessimistic?

9. What does Coates want us to learn from this text? What should be our primary take-
away? Is it insightful/realistic that he does not offer answers to the problems discussed, or is it just bleak and unhelpful?

11. Again, is his lack of religiosity dangerous/bleak, or is it refreshing for a generation that is increasingly less theological? Does this text mark a transition from the “cultural milieu of organized black church” to “a black politics without churchiness” (Cottom, 2015)? (Questions from Alexis Elafros of https://www.cohpa.ucf.edu)

Suggested by Members

Can you describe a moment in you life when you have witnessed or experienced
Do you think a change is coming in American perspectives on race?
What impact does this book and discussion have on the way you perceive people of color, if any?
by petersos (see profile) 06/26/16

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"What does that mean to be a black man in America today? Coates set out to explain his heritage, lay bare the ever-present dangers and share his hopes for change with his son. His hearing, transformative book is a must-read for us all."--People Magazine--Best Books of 2015 (#3)

"I would not have you descend into your own dream" Coates urges in Between the World and Me, a tender, furious polemic addressed as a novella–length letter to his teenage son. "I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world." And established journalist and essayist, Coates has already won numerous prizes–not least among them a National Book Award and MacArthur genius grant–in been anointed a 21st-century torchbearer a black intellectual thought. He knows that mantle is no small thing. But he also has no desire offer easy gestures or advance the audacity of hope. Instead, in raw, starkly personal prose, he presents racism not as a social construct but as a "visceral experience bracket [that] just lodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones…" The inclusion of torn-from– the–headlines names like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown has led well-meaning readers (many of them white) to remark on the timeliness of World's arrival. But Coates' crosshairs are set on millennia of injustice, not just isolated moments, and his voice resonates long after the last page."--Entertainment Weekly Best Books of 2015 (#1)

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by Pat. B. (see profile) 06/29/22

It was important to read and very well written, but it was depressing and I didn’t come away inspired. It didn’t seem to have answers.

by mark l. (see profile) 03/20/21

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