Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

80%

71 Critic Reviews

Throughout he resists the urge to tie up these ugly complexities with anything pat, delivering a perspective, in many ways, that you could call post-cynical.
-Guardian

Synopsis

#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
 

About Ta-Nehisi Coates

See more books from this Author
TA-NEHISI COATES is a blogger for TheAtlantic.com. He is a former staff writer at The Village Voice and Time, and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and numerous other publications. He lives in New York City.
 
Published July 14, 2015 by Spiegel & Grau. 163 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, War, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Jan 24 2016
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Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for Between the World and Me
All: 71 | Positive: 63 | Negative: 8

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 06 2015

...eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jun 26 2015

...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.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jun 26 2015

...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.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michelle Alexander on Aug 17 2015

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.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Jul 09 2015

Such assertions skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made. After all, America has twice elected a black president. At other moments in this powerful and passionate book, Mr. Coates acknowledges such changes. In fact, his book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Sukhdev Sandhu on Oct 08 2015

...Coates doesn’t write like a father so much as an apprentice theologian or a sophomoric logician. Sentences begin with “Thus”, “I propose”, “This leads us to another equally important ideal.” The tone is consistently one of aspirational gravitas, of bewhiskered patriarchs and dollar-bill overlords.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Syreeta McFadden on Jul 14 2015

Throughout he resists the urge to tie up these ugly complexities with anything pat, delivering a perspective, in many ways, that you could call post-cynical.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Tara Sonenshine on Aug 13 2015

But Between the World and Me is no ordinary book, and the writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates...is no ordinary writer. This personal account, written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son, who has experienced great emotional pain around the Ferguson incident wherein police killed Michael Brown, this personal account demands a personal response.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by ANJALI ENJETI on Aug 15 2015

Samori will already understand the bulk of these harrowing truths, but his father’s revelations are not meant only for him. They are directed to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have the luxury of raising children whose skin color does not mark them as prey.

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Book Reporter

Above average
Reviewed by John Maher on Jul 17 2015

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME --- a supposedly non-visual work of art --- had a similar effect, but it raised the stakes: It instilled a new awareness of the actual physical impression made, every day, by my body.

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Globe and Mail

Above average
Reviewed by Andray Domise on Jul 24 2015

This is by no means a textbook on American blackness; no such literature exists, and Coates spends almost a quarter of the book describing his own folly in seeking it. What Coates has produced instead is a brilliant primer on the experience of black maleness in America and the man-made structures that shape it.

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The Economist

Good
on Jul 04 2015

Mr Coates has written a powerful book that reveals how being the parent of a black teenage boy in America is to be visited by night terrors about his survival. Read more at http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21656629-father-tells-his-son-what-it-be-black-american-letter-despair#obqk4WitBs11oYpm.99

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by ERIC RENNER BROWN on Jul 23 2015

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

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The Independent

Below average
on Sep 24 2015

...offers a superficial medley of history-lesson-cum-memoir-cum-parental-guidance. One is left wondering what work of beauty and introspection a writer as thoughtful as Coates could have produced if he had chosen as his intended audience one of the young black men or women with similar journeys to his own that he befriended at Howard.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by Robert Epstein on Sep 19 2015

This is imagery that cannot be ignored, that brings that very viscerality to us without compromise, without relief.

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Chris Hartman on Aug 13 2015

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.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Mark Levine on Jul 15 2015

In this brief book, which takes the form of a letter to the author’s teenage son, Coates, the justly acclaimed author of the family memoir The Beautiful Struggle (2008), comes to grips with what it means to be black in America today...There is awesome beauty in the power of his prose and vital truth on every page.

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Huffington Post

Good
Reviewed by Kelley Calkins on Oct 27 2015

Overall, Between the World and Me would make for a powerful addition to any bookshelf, lap, bedside table, hand, or desk. Its masterful lettering, mostly monochromatic jacket, and appropriately thick pages are a treasure to behold.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Priscilla Kipp on Jul 13 2015

Ultimately, Coates’ powerful message, driven by a parent’s love, remains painfully hopeful. The struggle for change has meaning, and questions matter, perhaps even more than the answers.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by Philip A. Stephenson on Oct 11 2015

Altogether, the newly minted MacArthur “genius” award winner does nothing short of challenging Americans to give up the privileges of blind belief in thinking themselves the best and of blind faith that everyone reaps exactly what they sow.

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Denver Post

Good
Reviewed by Thomas Chatterton Williams on Jul 19 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates' pocket-sized new memoir, "Between the World and Me," is a riveting meditation on the state of race in America. It could hardly arrive at a more tumultuous moment.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Below average
Reviewed by Dennis Altman on Aug 08 2015

The emphasis on the physical realities of racism is a useful corrective to those who fail to understand the full implications of hate speech, but Coates repeats himself too often, and sometimes his poetic language leaves one both admiring and puzzled.

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Slate

Good
Reviewed by Jack Hamilton on Aug 24 2015

He died a number of years ago, but I wish I could give Coates’ book to him. Instead I’ll give it to my own students and, if the time comes, to my own children as well.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Above average
Reviewed by Julia Oller on Aug 27 2015

When the words are allowed to rest for a minute, however, Between the World and Me turns into an eloquent and thought-provoking treatise on race at a time when such eloquence seems in short supply.

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Look At OKC

Good
Reviewed by Amy Raymond on Sep 06 2015

I found myself writing down quotes from this book, looking for a chance to share them. The rumination of one man's perspective ends up carrying some universal ideas shared in a profound and powerful way.

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Newsday

Good
Reviewed by Walton Muyumba on Jul 16 2015

..."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.

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Huntington News

Good
Reviewed by Winslow Myers on Dec 23 2015

Toni Morrison calls this book required reading, and it is. Even if it first germinated before the many police murders of unarmed African American boys and men over the last year, it could not have entered the cultural scene at a more fateful moment.

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Chicago Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Ted Gray on Nov 19 2015

This book is essential reading if you are curious about the reasons behind the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white American I know that I can never fully understand everything Coates has to say, but the book does at least provide some basic ideas of what it is like to be an African-American in our country.

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Library Journal

Good
Reviewed by LJ REVIEWS on Jul 14 2015

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.

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BlogHer

Good
Reviewed by T_S_Henderson on Aug 03 2015

I do not find Between the World and Me hopeless, despairing or bleak at all. I really like Coates’ straightforward explanation of how racism and white supremacy, manifested in laws, policies, and culture, have structured the lives of African Americans.

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The Rumpus

Good
Reviewed by TOM ANDES on Sep 14 2015

The form of Between the World and Me makes comparisons between Coates and Baldwin inevitable...Yet, while Coates and Baldwin share an exhortative prose style and a concern with the redemptive possibilities of black suffering, Coates belongs to an age in which social media has democratized discourse.

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Bookin With Sunny.

Excellent
Reviewed by Ann Ronald on Feb 20 2017

While I cannot presume to explicate all the book’s complexities, I can say that Ta-Nehisi Coates words should be read by us all, and shouldn’t be forgotten.

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The Atlantic

Good
Reviewed by STUART STEVENS on Jul 31 2015

Between the World and Me is a great book. It sears your soul. It is inevitably and appropriately compared to James Baldwin and, like Baldwin, it belongs in that broad canon of passionate first-person work...

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The Atlantic

Good
Reviewed by CHRIS BODENNER on Jul 26 2015

Between The World and Me is an exquisite book, overflowing with insights about the embodied state of blackness and the logic of white supremacy. Coates’s prose is capable of challenging our understanding of the United States even as it captures our hearts. I plan to teach the book for two of my courses this academic year.

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Spectrum Culture

Good
Reviewed by NATHAN STEVENS on Sep 10 2015

My copy is dog eared like no book I have ever owned...Coates offers no visions of hope, no Deus Ex Machina that will swoop from the wings, because it would be an affront to do so. Instead, he has taken the fear, the panic, the brutality and crafted something otherworldly from something all too real.

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New York Observer

Below average
Reviewed by Ryan Holiday on Jul 13 2015

Between the World and Me is a book with many gems in it but it forces the reader to search for him. And thus it fails to fully break through as one would hope.

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Vox Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by BRADLEY BABENDIR on Jul 30 2015

Despite this limitation, Coates’ opus comes across as a detailed, accessible exploration of how race and racism operate in American society and how these constructs affect everyone.

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The Christian Century

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel José Camacho on Aug 05 2015

Between the World and Me paints a complicated picture of religion and its role in what Coates calls “the struggle.” For those thinking theologically about America’s social architecture, his words are a much needed challenge. With his atheism concerning many of America’s Gods, Coates may be surprised to find some religious allies.

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The Root

Good
Reviewed by HOPE WABUKE on Jul 14 2015

It goes without saying that Coates’ use of the second person—the use of the letter device—is brilliant. It allows Coates the room to remember his son as a baby and say, “You would be a man someday and I could not save you” from racial violence.

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The Reader

Above average
Reviewed by ZSO on Oct 05 2015

Such an incisive and elegantly-written book invites multiple readings. Pessimistic or challenging? Did Coates miss an opportunity or is he fleshing out of a new kind of struggle? Read for yourself and decide what comes next.

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US News

Good
Reviewed by Nicole Hemmer on Jul 21 2015

If Coates presents the American dream as a mirage, it's because he has reached the desert oasis and filled his mouth with sand. The grit in his writing is firmly grounded in that experience, and it makes "Between the World and Me" vital reading at this moment in American history.

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Education Week

Good
Reviewed by Cornelius Minor and Bridget Wilhelm on Jul 20 2015

...this book invites us not just to talk about, but to study how race operates in schools. We know the transformative impact of teacher collaboration on curriculum. We welcome that same impact on community. It's why we joined the profession.

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Lesa's Book Critiques

Good
Reviewed by Lesa on Aug 23 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates' letter to his son is a powerful indictment of a country living in fear, people fearing each other because of the color of their skin, or because of the power over them because of the color of their skin. It's sad, and tragic, that Coates and others cannot feel safe and at peace in this country.

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Readings

Good
Reviewed by Bronte Coates on Jul 29 2015

It would be foolish (and insensitive) for me to claim I now completely understand Coates’ life and position as a black father in America. Rather, this book revealed something true to me, and it showed me what that might be like.

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https://www.bostonglobe.com

Good
Reviewed by Donna Bailey Nurse on Jul 11 2015

Coates dismisses out of hand the idea of a spirit separate from the body. But it is his son’s youthful spirit that this book will embolden, and his own magnificent spirit that informs it.

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Raging Biblioholism

Excellent
Reviewed by Drew on Jul 20 2015

I can’t think of a more important thought for today – and for tomorrow, too. For that, for that fiery, brutal, scary, wonderful thought, I can only give this book the highest of marks.

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Bibliophile By the Sea

Good
Reviewed by (Diane) Bibliophile on Jan 04 2016

It's a tough read at times, but, an important one. Although there are no magic answers in this book, it seems like an excellent book to introduced in high school curriculums.

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Everyday eBook

Excellent
Reviewed by Kristin Fritz on Aug 13 2015

My recommendation not as a white person or a woman or even an American - but as a human who understands that where we've come to is not great, nor right, nor enough - echoes Morrison's sentiment. Read this book. It is essential.

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https://lareviewofbooks.org

Above average
Reviewed by Matthew Shenoda on Sep 13 2015

Between the World and Me is no doubt a primer in that direction, but ultimately, we have serious internal and external work to do and no single book will grant us the answers.

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https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

Good
on Feb 17 2016

This powerful, riveting testimonial is also a confirmation that the personal is indeed political, especially in a country which is institutionally designed to favor whites over people of color, males over females, straights over gays, and paradoxically, myths over honesty. I consider it essential reading for Americans.

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So Many Books

Good
Reviewed by Stefanie on Feb 08 2016

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a powerful and passionate book. As a white person in America, it was at times difficult for me to read. I found myself whispering I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry over and over.

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The Bowed Bookshelf

Good
Reviewed by Trish on Oct 17 2015

Coates’ letter to his son is a terrifically moving and important addition to our understanding of how we in America define race, and how we use race to define ourselves.

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Beth Kephart's Books

Good
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Nov 23 2015

Bracing and blunt, Between the World and Me is a missile launched toward the heart of comfortable ideas. It is a cry out from a place of long darkness...

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Chicago Center For Literature And Photography

Excellent
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer on Aug 20 2015

...Between the World and Me is a reminder of why I read in the first place. Hard to ask for much more than that.

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If You Write It

Above average
Reviewed by Jon Herrera on Jul 15 2015

It is an interesting book, but like any travelogue from a distant land, he can only tell us what he sees and how the world looks to him...Between The World and Me is well worth reading, but it does feel like he’s preaching to the choir.

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The Cyberlibrarian Reads

Good
Reviewed by Miriam Downey on Feb 16 2016

Much has been written about Between the World and Me by Coates, and as a White more-than-middle aged woman, there is little insight that I can add to what I believe to be a book of tremendous importance.

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Joy's Book Blog

Good
Reviewed by Joy Weese Moll on Dec 31 2015

Between the World and Me contains autobiography, explorations for all Americans about race, and the sort of advice we all wished we got at age 15...

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Off The Tracks

Good
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman on Aug 11 2015

There inside this stirring, poetic account is a loving portrait of fatherhood too – of the fears he has for his son. For the future. And the pride he has too. The hope that he could have a fighting chance. And one day, maybe, a chance without so much the fight.

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ArcaMax

Good
Reviewed by Thomas Chatterton Williams on Jul 12 2015

But in this book he 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.

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https://bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com

Good
Reviewed by Bethany on Nov 01 1980

At its heart, Between the World and Me is an existential meditation. The universal human question, the question of how we should live in the world, has become “How should we live as black bodies in a hostile world?” As Coates conveys in spare, virtuosic prose, there are no definitive answers to such questions. The beauty lies in the asking.

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http://socialistreview.org.uk

Above average
on Jun 17 2016

However, his characterisation of the French capital as a place of refuge is somewhat idealistic. As he hits middle age, Coates is desperate to see his son grow up in a better world. He’s right about that, but surely the best way to achieve it is to fight, and involve our children in that struggle.

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http://www.dailyuw.com

Above average
Reviewed by Haylee Millikan on Jan 04 2016

What makes this book different is the refusal to introduce hope in the conversation. Coates doesn’t believe there’s any reason to be optimistic; he believes America and its white supremacy are inseparable.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com

Good
Reviewed by WALTER RUSSELL MEAD on Jan 01 2016

Coates may be a better polemicist than analyst, but the perspective he brings to American life is one that no responsible citizen or serious scholar can safely ignore.

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https://www.christiancentury.org

Good
Reviewed by Daniel José Camacho on Sep 16 2015

Between the World and Me paints a complicated picture of religion and its role in what Coates calls “the struggle.” For those thinking theologically about America’s social architecture, his words are a much needed challenge. And with his atheism concerning many of America’s gods, Coates may be surprised to find some religious allies.

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http://www.truth-out.org

Good
Reviewed by Eisa Nefertari Ulen on Aug 23 2015

To begin to understand what it is, this Black body in the United States, Coates' book is indeed essential reading.

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Niklas' Blog

Good
on Nov 30 2015

His way to look at youth culture, gangsta culture, rap á la Mobb Deep and OutKast, how the toughs are really scareds, is interesting...Still, what strikes me as slightly flawed with this short book, is the lack of feminism...Coates is a very good and poetic author. I’m keen to read his other work.

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Curled Up with a Good Book and a Cup of Tea

Good
Reviewed by Shan on Oct 21 2015

This is a powerful book. I’m not the intended the target for it but it says so much about a writer when his subject matter can transcend audiences and touch everyone who reads it.

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http://3rsblog.com

Good
Reviewed by Florinda on Feb 23 2016

This extended essay, structured as a long letter to Coates’ fifteen-year-old son, is powerfully and passionately written, and especially affecting in the audiobook version read by the author. It offers a perspective on the “American Dream” that I had not considered before, but that I can’t forget now.

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https://agoodstoppingpoint.wordpress.com

Good
on Jan 17 2016

...I’m learning over and over that you can’t force open a closed mind. Which means the people who really “need” to read this book, probably won’t. However, those who seek it out will be rewarded. I know that I will be thinking of this book for a long time.

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http://rhrealitycheck.org

Good
Reviewed by Josie Duffy on Jul 15 2015

...this book is not about all of us. It does not include all of our stories. Perhaps that is too much to ask. Coates is a man writing a letter to his son. This is a man-to-man talk...This is undoubtedly an important conversation.

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http://americamagazine.org

Above average
Reviewed by Patrick A. O’Donnell on Mar 14 2016

There are moments when Coates’s treatment of the nature of racism is not fully satisfying...Nevertheless, it would be a shame to let these discrepancies obscure the importance and value of Between the World and Me.

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