Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” as Want to Read:
Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word

3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  969 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
It’s “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets,” a word that whites have employed to wound and degrade African Americans for three centuries. Paradoxically, among many black people it has become a term of affection and even empowerment. The word, of course, is nigger, and in this candid, lucidly argued book the distinguished legal scholar Randall Kennedy traces its origins, map ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 14th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Nigger, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Nigger

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,907)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Books Ring Mah Bell
Jun 21, 2011 Books Ring Mah Bell rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you happen to have a book club with balls, I'd like to suggest this book for your next read.

This slim volume is filled with the controversy surrounding the use of the word n.... uh, you know. THAT word. I'd say it, but, I believe the word was buried a few years ago. (WHOA. Found this article while searching for pictures for the N word funeral. The article alone needs its own review: http://www.nathanielturner.com/justan...)

Here they are having a funeral for the word:
http://www.youtube.com/wat
...more
MLB
Jul 14, 2007 MLB rated it really liked it
This book caught my eye again after the recent NAACP funeral for the euphemistic "N-word." I think they're ridiculous -- nigger is alive and well!

A WORD is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
Emily Dickinson

Kennedy is obviously a law professor, drawing upon a plethora of legal cases to illustrate the history of the use, misuse and abuse of the word. He does a yeoman's job and, I think, rightly concludes that those who would eliminate the word are wrong.

I read
...more
Wendell
Oct 09, 2011 Wendell rated it liked it
If the question is scholarship and clarity, no fault can be found with Randall Kennedy’s Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. And if that is so, what makes Kennedy's book so ultimately unsatisfying? Perhaps it is the sense that Kennedy, who is eternally fair-minded (at times, perhaps, even to a fault), never quite seems to get his arms entirely around his topic. Indeed, if Kennedy is always rational in pronouncing his phlegmatic judgments on various famous and infamous uses of the “ ...more
Scott Rhee
Mar 05, 2015 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it
It is, inarguably, the most loathsome word in the English language. It has cost people jobs, sparked murders, and has been used to denigrate and oppress an entire race of people. Just seeing the word in print is enough to spark outrage in some people. Indeed, I am sure that some people will see the title of this book and refuse to even consider that it may contain anything of merit. How could it, after all, with a title like “Nigger”?

Randall Kennedy, a legal expert and a Harvard professor, wrote
...more
Jakub
Mar 25, 2014 Jakub rated it really liked it
I started reading this book while cleaning out my house. I was captured by the titile and the fact that the authors name is Kennedy, I assumed it was the president. False. When I started reading the book, however, I was quickly pulled into it and finished this Sunday when I was home alone sick. Very rewarding.

This book takes a look at the word nigger from its inception to its many uses throughout history to the present day. This book does a really good job presenting the word from multiple angl
...more
erin
Jan 02, 2013 erin rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Randall Kennedy's extremely thoughtful approach to the n-word and what it means socially and legally for U.S. Americans today. While first published just over a decade ago, I found Kennedy's approach still fresh.

His analysis of the different meanings of the n-word are historically grounded: Kennedy often calls upon examples from slavery to 2001 (just before the book was first published). It is obvious that Kennedy feels most at home when discussing the contextually different use
...more
Chris
Jan 10, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it
I read this book while I was teaching in the Bronx and I remember becoming incredibly interested in the use of the word. For some time, I had been discouraging (ie. banning) its use in the classroom, but I had to question my reasons for doing so a little more after reading this. It sparked off a project that I did with my students to try and assess people's comfort level with language, and come to a concensus about what we were okay with.
I have to say, though, reading this book on the subway whi
...more
Morgan Dhu
Jul 05, 2014 Morgan Dhu rated it liked it
Randall Kennedy (an African-American professor at Harvard Law School who specialises in, among other things, race relations law) has written a very interesting book about the word that no white person can say without risking denunciation as a racist of the very worst kind - even though, as Kennedy notes in the book, racism can do as much, or more harm, when clothed in polite condescension or specious arguments pretending to quote scientific or historical "fact" as it can when broadcast through a ...more
Dylan
Jun 14, 2011 Dylan rated it liked it
“Nigger” is one of the most interesting words in our society, so fraught with controversy that simply saying it out loud could get you killed in the right context. The labyrinthine societal rules surrounding “nigger” have always confused and frustrated me. When is it socially-acceptable to use “nigger”? Black people can use it as they please; white people certainly can’t use it as an insult, but what about in other circumstances? Can I say it when talking about the word itself? What about satir ...more
Andy Nguyen
Jul 25, 2013 Andy Nguyen rated it really liked it
Because half-star rating is not allowed, I gave this book 4 stars whereas I would rate this three-and-a-half. "Nigger" is an informative book: it tells the many outrageous stories that African Americans have suffered from racial slurs, in which the n-word plays a central point. The stories, many of them happened not so long ago, serve as a good reminder to non-black audience why their black friends react the way they do to the n-word. Given his legal back ground, Kennedy also writes extensively ...more
Chris
Nov 17, 2012 Chris rated it liked it


I found the first part of this book very depressing as it presented account after account , some quite recent, of the use of "nigger" to defame a people.
Originally,in the sentence above, I was going "to denigrate a people". I looked up the origins of "denigrate" and found it's roots in Latin, "nigrare', niger".
It is directly related to the "nuclear bomb of racial epithets". I use "denigrate", or used to use it, all the time. I don't think "denigrate" has received the same censure that other wor
...more
Craig
Mar 10, 2013 Craig rated it it was amazing
I can't recommend this book enough. In a world where race continue to play an important role in how people relate to one another, it is imperative to develop an understanding of "the N-word," its history, its many forms of usage, and to reflect on the complex sociology it invokes. Kennedy does a good job of unpacking virtually every facet of the Word, including its employment as a term of fraternity (a form of what many academics refer to as "reclamation"), the sociology of "owning" one's Blackn ...more
Jen
Jul 19, 2011 Jen rated it it was ok
I was really nervous about reading this book in public, but I shouldn't have been. The IN YOUR FACE title is about the only exciting thing about the book. If you have even a D+ understanding of racism you'll already know about 90% of the stuff in the book. Some people HATE the word, some people LOVE it, some white racists use it, some white writers use it to fight racism. He never really forms an opinion, never really makes any strong arguments in any direction, (mostly says 'some people think t ...more
Ryan Mishap
Sep 01, 2008 Ryan Mishap rated it it was ok
Kennedy brings a lawyer’s mind to this book that is less a history and more of a series of point/counter-points examining the changing (and unchanging) meanings and usage of the word. A somewhat conservative law school professor, he relies more on legal case history than on social, political, and cultural themes (I think because he believes court cases reflect all those at any given time). The basic questions covered: why does the word have so much power, who can use it without accessing the pow ...more
William Cooper
Jan 04, 2016 William Cooper rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting and well crafted work that examines - without bias or undue emotion - some of the issues surrounding the N word. From Mark Twain to O.J. Simpson, Kennedy presents a well though out argument that supplants those who solely believe the pejorative interpretation of the word and manages to present it as a multifaceted and integral part of American colloquial speech.

Kennedy briefly touches on the history of the word, from its evolution from Niger - meaning black - to the various modern
...more
Nicko
Aug 04, 2007 Nicko rated it really liked it
This is a very good book. It speaks about cases and thoughts of other peoples point of view of the usage of the word nigger. After reading this book I look at my predispositions about the N-word very differently. This book really makes you think when questions are being asked of the word. This book is something that you need to read. Reading this book you well be overwhelmed.
Julie
Oct 29, 2009 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009-reads
Very interesting, especially since three of the novels I teach every year use the "N-word." Kennedy gives a historical account of the word and argues that some (not all) of the attempts to eliminate the word from literature, rap, etc. are misguided. I've always thought the word to be reprehensible, but reading this book gave me more insight as to why.
Josip Serdarevic
Oct 10, 2015 Josip Serdarevic rated it really liked it
An intriguing look at the perplexing status of a word that has somehow become the absolute paragon of vile epithets (at least in the American lexicon) and how it continues to the stir - in both speakers and listeners - the entire pantheon of possible human emotions when it is encountered.
Even more so, this book is about language and its continual evolution, how mere words can either be diminished or grow in visceral strength in accordance to their attached symbolism. How does one "own" a word i
...more
Steve
May 21, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
Kennedy advocates for a multilayered treatment of the n word which he argues can have multiple positive and negative connotations while used by either blacks or whites.

I admire his principled stance on the malleability of languages and for the most part I agree with his arguments that the use of the n word is problematic, though defensible in several contexts. If anything, the book is a fantastic jumping-off point to discuss racial epithets, which is no doubt its intention.

The middle section goi
...more
Anthony
Feb 02, 2015 Anthony rated it really liked it
If you are looking for a guide on when you should or shouldn't use the word nigger, as some people seem to be expecting, then this book is not for you. Many who have had any experiences in regards to racism won't be surprised by much of the cases which are discussed. I did find this to be a worthwhile read, if only to delineate some of the legal and historical context, which I suspect doesn't even enter the minds of a good portion of the younger generations. The author doesn't land firmly on one ...more
RK Byers
Jul 11, 2009 RK Byers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WAY better book than i expected.
Tim
Jul 25, 2011 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading such an emotionally charged book as Kennedy’s, I am almost hesitant to write a review. Anything I say as a white man about the linguistic term that is the title of this book is liable to be controversial to someone. However, it IS a book that I believe readers of any ethnicity owe it to themselves to absorb.
I can appreciate how Kennedy doesn’t explicitly forbid the usage of the word (OF COURSE considering the user’s race and context). He emphasizes that there are free speech debat
...more
Art
Nov 18, 2013 Art rated it really liked it
Randall Kennedy describes how this most offensive of racial slurs is also used most creatively by the very people it was meant to put down.

The first half of Kennedy's book was the most interesting, he describes uses of the title word by oppressors: slave owners, senators, judges, lawyers, presidents, and other, mostly white people in power throughout American history. Kennedy's massive scholarly research on the word's use and on the actions of the people wielding the word in American history sh
...more
Cwn_annwn_13
Jan 07, 2010 Cwn_annwn_13 rated it liked it
All about the word nigger. It starts with some nigger jokes, goes into various uses of it in film, literature and music. Talks about famous people using it in both private and public conversations and getting in hot water for it. The double standard of why blacks are allowed to use it and whites are not. It goes into some of the many cases of people losing their jobs and companies being sued over white employees using it around black co-workers as well as the belief some have that the punishment ...more
Benjamen
Apr 13, 2014 Benjamen rated it really liked it
It reminded me of this undeniably true fact...language, and the uses of words are but an extension of your education, mores and values.

He reminded me that words are only as powerful or destructive as the "HEARER" allows them to be. This is especially important to me as a black man, father, Pastor, and College Graduate who is still seen as nothing more than a Nigger" in the eyes and hearts of those who refuse to rise above arrogance, stupidly and self-importance...still, they are only words...off
...more
Allison Fetch
Jun 17, 2013 Allison Fetch rated it really liked it
I'd heard a review of this book several years ago and thought then that it would be an interesting read, but it wasn't until some recent controversy among several folks I know who debated the 'proper' use of the word that I finally picked it up. I've always thought of nigger as a word of oppression, and I haven't changed my opinion though the author made some attempt to do so. I have, however, expanded my understanding of the use of the word in various situations and believe that it's meaning is ...more
Lance Eaton
Sep 28, 2015 Lance Eaton rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Kennedy's book is a fascinating look at the tricky and curious understanding of an infamous word. What is so strong about this book is that it traces out the word's complexity and provides a clear understanding that it is not a fixed word and yet there are core elements to it. Language is tricky and language that is deeply rooted in human degradation is even more challenging. He looks at the cultural and legal history of the word while also identifying the ways that both African Americans and no ...more
Courtney Johnson
Jan 14, 2016 Courtney Johnson rated it liked it
This book was actually interesting. It was intriguing to read about the history of this one word and how it has been used over the years. It isnt a book that I would read again, but I would definately recommend it to english majors, or people who might just like reading about words. It is a powerful read, and keeps the reader attentive during the whole read. It was written in 2001, so it has some pretty current references as well.
Chandra Frederick
Jul 02, 2015 Chandra Frederick rated it liked it
If you're looking for examples of the use of this word in the past by people in authority and people with influence, you will learn about plenty. At times, Professor Kennedy rattles them off like bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. I waited for a long time for him to identify his position on the use of the word. I am not sure I know his position even after reading the book. Maybe that was his point - perhaps the use of the word is not that clear cut.
Ira Therebel
In this book a law professor from Harvard, Randall Kennedy talks about one of the worst or even the worst racial slur of our time. In the first chapter he introduces us to this complex word, then he talks about incidents with it in law, in the third we go through the fighing of the word in our socety and some incidents when it may have gone too far. At the end he concludes with his opinion on the word and its place in our society.

This book is a very fast read and has a lot of information packed
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 63 64 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why
  • 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today
  • How to Hustle and Win, Part One: A Survival Guide for the Ghetto
  • Blood in My Eye
  • Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
  • We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party
  • The Future of the Race
  • Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-First Century
  • Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice
  • Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture
  • Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America
  • Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete
  • Nigger Heaven
  • Black Power: The Politics of Liberation
  • More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
  • Voices from the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath
  • Black Genius: African-American Solutions to African-American Problems
  • When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America

Share This Book