Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates Review blog header

Published: July 14th, 2015 by Spiegel & Grau | Series: N/A | Length: 152 pages | Genre: Nonfiction, memoir | Source: Bought | Possible Triggers: Racism, police brutality

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Summary from Goodreads:

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.

Between the World and Me is one of those books that’s sat on my TBR forever, but that definitely should’ve gotten read sooner. At only 152 pages, this still manages to pack a punch and give a lot of insight into what it’s like to be a Black man in America.

As it states at the beginning of the synopsis, this is written as a letter to Coates’ son. For the most part, I felt it worked well and offered a more personal take on Coates’ thoughts and experiences. Because he’s writing to his son, he talks a lot about his personal background as well as his insecurities and fears as a parent. I think that if this had been written with a more general audience in mind, it wouldn’t have felt so intimate. And yet I also just wasn’t a big fan of this. I honestly don’t really know why and it’s, therefore, a completely useless criticism, I’m aware, but I guess sometimes it just kind of felt a little too personal to me. There were times where I felt Coates talking directly to his son made it a little difficult to connect to as a reader, but perhaps I’m being nitpicky.

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Obviously, the focus of this book is Coates’ experiences as a Black man in America. He talks about his own experiences and shares advice for his son, talking about his fears and what he feels his son must prepare himself for. As a white person, a lot of this was really eye-opening to me. Not much of it talked about things that were brand new to me as I’ve read quite a lot about race, especially in my sociology courses, but I felt Coates helped me to get a better understanding of the magnitude of these issues and how the fears and insecurities about being Black permeate every aspect of his life. He talks about a lot of the ways in which he’s felt he had to change his behavior, appearance, etc. to make sure he’s not seen as threatening, intimidating, etc. and how there are times where it’s still not enough or he loses his composure and forgets how disastrous the consequences could be for him. It really forces readers to see how every waking moment, he has to be aware of how he is presenting himself or he risks being confronted by police and arrested or killed. A continuous theme in this book is the devaluation of Black lives and how white Americans feel entitled to destroy them. It’s really quite difficult and uncomfortable to read, but these are things that are so important for us to educate ourselves about as white people.

The reason why I decided to give this four stars rather than 4.5 or 5 stars was simply because at times the voice didn’t quite connect with me and it did have moments that were a bit dull to read in my opinion. This is likely a “Kourtni doesn’t often read nonfiction” thing rather than a true criticism of Coates’ writing, though, so take that as you will. I definitely don’t want to discourage people from picking this up as this is such an important and powerful read.

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If you’re white and looking to learn more about race relations in the United States and what it means to be a Black man in America, Between the World and Me is an essential read. It will likely make you uncomfortable more than once, but it will open your eyes to a lot of the things that we, as white people, overlook and are unaware of. I can’t really speak to the value this will have for Black readers, but I can only imagine it’d be insightful for you as well (albeit likely in a very different way). And only 150 pages, it’s a rather quick read so what have you got to lose?

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7 thoughts on “Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  1. I saw Coates speak at Davidson College shortly after reading Between the World and Me, I I was quite surprised when he told the audience that framing the book as a letter to his son was actually just a literary device he used to write the book. Although he did write it with his son in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s really interesting. I can see why he would choose to write it that way though – it does give the reader an intimate look at his thoughts. But sometimes the things he was saying were so personal or specific that I definitely expected that he was genuinely writing it to his son.


  2. Such a fantastic, important read. For me, the format of a letter to Coates’s son was extremely effective and made me more invested in his words. I totally agree that, as a white person, this book really drove home to magnitude of the effects of police brutality, and how much racism affects every aspect of people’s daily lives. Great review, Kourtni!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wish I could pinpoint what it was about the letter format that I didn’t like. At times I really enjoyed it but then there were others times where it just didn’t work for me and I’m frustrated that I can’t figure out why, haha. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly powerful book and really opens the eyes of white readers.
      Thanks, Madalyn! 🙂


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