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

BetweenTheWorldandMeCoverOfficial Synopsis from Amazon: 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.


Genre: Nonfiction
Setting: Described above in the synopsis. This is more of a long letter written to the author’s son, so doesn’t really have a particular setting.
My copy came from: Borrowed from my local library.

Review: Intense, powerful, and thought provoking. I can’t say that I liked it, but I can certainly appreciate it.

Between the World and Me is told as a letter written by the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to his fifteen-year-old son. Coates talks about the United States’ history, and “race”, and it is an illuminating book. I don’t know that I can really review this book, as it feels so real and raw that to pick it apart feels wrong.

But race is the child of racism, not the father.

The writing is damn near perfect. There are sections that brought me to tears; sections that angered me; sections that were so powerful it felt like I’d already heard the words before, but I knew that I had not.

The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration.  Mistakes were made.  Bodies were broken.  People were enslaved.  We meant well.  We tried our best.  “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.

This would be a powerful discussion book. One that I feel should be discussed in college classrooms, and discussed among book clubs. What keeps me from liking, or loving the book, is the sense that as the reader I’m being “instructed”, or “dictated to”. The author is telling me how I should think, but that feeling fits with the style of book that this is. It is a letter, written by a father to his son, so it has that tone of knowledge and weight that a father has when he speaks with his son about something of import. So, that’s really the only thing holding me back from a 5 star rating.

Bottom Line: Intense, powerful, and thought provoking.

Links to Between the World and Me on  Amazon   |   Goodreads

Have you read Between the World and Me? Have you discussed this book in a classroom setting?


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

    1. It’s such a powerful read! I can’t wait to read your review once you get to the book. There are so many profound quotes in the book! Many of the quotes were a bit too long to share here. It’s such a powerful book and would be a great discussion book.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve read this book, though it came out long after I was out of school. I don’t teach it in my college classes because I feel that the author is aware that his son knows a thing or two about racism. Most 18-year-olds really do not. Also, it’s easier to understand where the author is coming from if you’ve done the reading he did when he got to college, namely Malcolm X. But most people haven’t, so it’s a book that has a strange place in the world. Academic but casual, for everyone but for his son.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! I haven’t read any Malcolm X, I’ve just heard his name and read a tiny bit about him through various books. One of these days I’d like to read up on Malcolm X to learn more about him.
      I’d be really interested to hear different discussions about this book. This past fall in my area, this book was selected as the community read for the fall, and was a book that a lot of the local JC students were reading as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If it’s in a classroom environment, I’m sure the instructor can lead the conversation, but he/she would be give the students quite a bit of background, and they would have to trust it without engaging with that material themselves, in my opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s