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The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
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The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  725 ratings  ·  135 reviews
An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.

Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true hi
Paperback, 227 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2008)
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Along with "Dreams from my Father," I want to add this to the Coming of Age / Memoir unit I teach. Ta-Nehisi is a fantastic writing, and the book moves along with a lightness and wit (I finished the book in under 24 hours) that belies the seriousness of his subject.

Stylistically, the book feels as if it were written effortlessly, yet is filled with clever and knowing asides that don't feel forced. That Coates can retain the straight power of street slang while mixing in references to Dungeons an
Craig Werner
Extremely interesting material that never quite coalesces into either a clear statement or a good read. One of seven children of a black nationalist father, Coates grew up in West Baltimore where he was consistently on the verge of washing out of the educational system entirely. Although he ultimately makes it--on one level this is a variation on the "narrative of ascent" in which a black protagonist acquires "literacy" and a limited degree of freedom--Coates doesn't provide a clear picture of w ...more
Jul 11, 2009 Scott rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Scott by: Terry Gross
I just started reading this today, but in the first chapter alone, here are a couple gems:

"About that time my Converse turned to cleats and I bolted, leaving dents and divots in the concrete. The streetlights flickered, waved as I broke ankles, blew by, and when the bandits reached to check me, I left only imagination and air."

"They elevated bar fights to a martial art, would rush the ring, all juiced on jeers and applause, white music blaring, Van Halen hair waving in the wind, and raise their
Elliot Ratzman
“We are the walking lowest rung, and all that stands between us and beast,” Ta-Nehisi Coates claims, “is respect.” Respect? Silly machismo. I’m of two minds about this memoir: can’t decide if it’s poetic profundity or puerile posturing. I enjoy Coates’ insightful pieces in Time, Atlantic and New Yorker. The memoir of his pre-college (Howard) years is at turns hip-hop cartoonish, beautifully evocative and eye-rolling frustrating. A few chpts are stellar. In short, he’s raised by a sharp but bitte ...more
How not to love Ta-Nehisi Coates? Of course I got to know him through his blog on The Atlantic and that’s kind of hard to stop reading it after you start. Not too dissimilar from a drug. It is really no secret that Coates most attractive characteristic—at least for me—is being this soft, sweet underdog who, despite it all, made it. Take this conversation between father and son:
'I am not raising nothing niggers. Where is your head? What are you thinking, boy?
I am thinking of Sunday waffles and
Books written by POC
I just finished [The Beautiful Struggle] by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I have mixed feelings about. More than anything, it's about Coates' father, and yet I don't feel like I know him at all for reading about his life. The distance between reader and writer may reflect the distance between the inner lives of father and son - love and respect don't require full disclosure on anyone's part. Still, this is a book crammed with personalities, with lives long and short, and yet few - if any- really flowe ...more
Oh man, I just love him. This is totally different from his blog/twitter postings, but equally awesome along a totally different dimension. I think the writing *occasionally* goes off the rails with some of the flowery, figurative language, but he's also trying to capture the essence of something that is hard to explain. I really appreciate this as a meditation on black masculinity and the experience of trying to grow into a man in the world where Coates grew up. Loved the super complicated rela ...more
A very eloquent biography of a familiy and a boy's journey to manhood. Tells the story of a boy raised by a black panther in the Baltimore of the crack era. Not your typical rags to riches story of escaping a bad situation, but rather a loving story of beautiful people living beautiful lives. The narrative focuses on the struggles of a black family struggling to make it, to be authentic to their roots, to not compromise to a system that abuses them, and to simply be a family.

There is a lot more
Man this book was good, and I can try to explain why but I wouldn't really be doing it justice. I don't even know how to describe the writing. It flowed so well, so smoothly. I wouldn't say it was poetry, but it was some good fucking prose. I sprinted through this book, not because it was due back at the library or anything, but because the writing just flowed like water. I've been reading his blog over at the Atlantic for awhile, and while I've come to admire him as a counterbalance/pushback to ...more
This is a breezy memoir about growing up as a black kid in West Baltimore. But despite the ease of reading, Coates packs a lot into the book; it's a testament to his skill and sharp wit that it flows fast while feeling deeply.

However, I felt the book was a bit detached. Coates is a keen observer, but he doesn't explore his inner life very much, writing about his thoughts as if from the outside. Maybe that's necessary when growing up in a crime-riddled neighborhood, but I couldn't latch on to thi
Before reading this, I knew of TNC as a blogger and editor from The Atlantic. I had no idea what his upbringing was like, which is what this is all about.

Ta-Nehisi was clearly a nerd with nerd-like tendencies as a kid. He loved spacing out, fantasy novels, and D&D. Two things set him apart from most nerds:

1. He grew up in Baltimore in the eighties during the crack epidemic.
2. His father was a former Black Panther. When he had Ta-Nehisi, he was no longer a Black Panther but still very much co
As an avid reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog, I couldn't resist this book when I saw it at the library. The style is different from his prose and blog -- more lyrical, elliptical, musical. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it makes him hard to follow. As a proper little white girl, I didn't know much of the slang (I needed June Cleaver to speak jive for me). A few things really struck me from the book. First, the degree of ignorance that most white people have about most black people. Se ...more
William Lubold
I read Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic's website every day, and I'm always very disappointed when he doesn't update "often enough" to suit my tastes. He's both a phenomenal writer and an incisive commentator. So this book is everything I expected and more.

And since I'm extremely self-absorbed, what struck me about the book was that despite wildly different backgrounds, we grew up--as nerds--liking many of the same things, much to our the detriment of our social lives. I lost count of how many
This book is a gem of cultural expression for the born in the seventies- came up in the eighties generation. It is a story of relationships between father and son. The book picks up speed towards the middle once the author stops describing how tough everything is all around him and really describes himself, his family, and the changes he makes internally and externally as he grows up. The book is chock full of slang. At times, I was like really? That much slang? But he uses metaphor and slang in ...more
This book, acclaimed Village Voice & The Atlantic journalist, Coates' memoir of growing up "in the streets, but not of the streets" of West Baltimore is fantastic. At once a lens through which to look at what it's like to be a young black male in the US but also the story of one boy's journey toward understanding himself, his relationship with his parents (and in particular, his father) and where he fits into this world is a pretty essential read. Coates renders the psyche of the young black ...more
I'm a fan of Coates' pieces in the Atlantic. There was a lot that I liked in this story and he is clearly a gifted writer but I don't think the book format is his medium. His style is lilting, almost musical, which make sense since he talks about music so much and how it shaped him in a lot of ways. I especially loved his shout-outs to the music of our shared youth. But I found the style distracting for the whole book and often felt like it was just rambling. I would highly recommend his article ...more
Stephen Matlock
African-Americans have struggled to acquire their voice in American culture. We have had uncertain biographies and stories written by others; in the last century we had the eruption of Harlem when black voices began to be more fully heard.

It's still difficult to write those stories, but more and more black Americans are telling their lives, not to justify them or to make their unknown presence known, but to say "I am here and this is what I think and feel. Take me on my own words; accept me for
Fantastic memoir. So much fun to read. Coates is a stylist, and pays close attention to his sentences. The layers of details will sometimes get past you (if you're not familiar with 80s rap or fashions, for example), but you can't miss the heartbreak, the yearning of a young man. Most impressive is how he tells his own, very specific story against the broader story of black West Baltimore in the 1980s. Thrilling writing.
Disclaimer: I LOVE Ta-Nehisi Coates's Atlantic column and all the other non-fiction I've read by him, so I think I was bound to love any book that could give me more insight into what made him who he is today. So, I really enjoyed this book and it might be in large part due to that. The writing style is really different and was hard for me to get the hang of reading until I was a ways in, but I even liked letting the poetic language flow over me even when I sometimes didn't understand what actua ...more
What a great story. Poetically written. Intelligently and honestly told. It goes to show how intelligence isn't necessarily obvious by a young student's effort, performance, or grades. But his intelligence is evident in his devouring the material his Black Panther father republishes to keep the literature/information "alive" and available. The history of this country has multiple points of view, and all points of view are relevant, in my opinion. For example, if some people "won the West", someo ...more
A flowing stream of consciousness of a story, this book isn't for everyone but I sort of wish everyone would read it anyway. A beautiful insight into the day to day realities and the competing pressures in the lives of young urban black boys -- the push to achieve in conventional ways (and lift the race up with you!) rubbing up against the pull into coolness and a certain form of authenticity that is all too often rolled up in questionable peer activity. How do you stay "in" with your friends wi ...more
Barb Lathroum
This memoir is an eye-opening picture of a young black boy growing up in 1980s Baltimore. The author focuses on the relationship between him and his father. I found it sometimes harrowing and often inspiring. Ta-nehisi Coates writes so compellingly about his experiences and the love and respect he holds for his dad comes through. I read first an excellent and well-reasoned article in The Atlantic magazine in which Coates makes a persuasive case for reparations. This article led me to his memoir. ...more
Just started 2 days ago & it is compellingly honest, transparent, & far...
we came for the old school hip-hop references, we stayed for the life lessons
I needed a vocabulary guide but this is an artist at work. His take on US culture and African American manhood are treasures. I have to watch his TV show, read his blog, immerse myself in him. A puzzling omission/elision: he barely mentioned, once, that the dominant figure in his life, his father, had died. The centrality of that father, reflected in the title and pervasive in the book, made it seem like the death must have been a defining moment, but Coates never says when, how, or how he react ...more
I adore Coates' writing for the Atlantic, but this didn't quite click for me. There were some passages that were mesmerizing, almost free verse rather than prose, but other stretches that just didn't work for me -- I don't know enough about the Black Panthers or 80s rap to understand all the references, and he wasn't interested in explaining.

Neither Ta-Nehisi's story of growing up nor his brothers' is dramatic enough to carry the story -- although it's good to be reminded that there are options
I read this because a friend lent it to me and wouldn't take it back until I finished it. While the world that Coates grew up in was fascinating and completely new to me, the shapelessness of the memoir was exhausting. I kept wondering what the point of the damn thing was.

I often felt frustrated and bored by this slim volume, which felt hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages long by the time I finished it. I'm not interested enough in memoirs to care for a one that was written without a th
"Fuck what you have heard of what you have seen in your son. He may lie about homework and laugh when the teacher calls home. He may curse his teacher, propose arson for the whole public system. But inside is the same sense that was in me. None of us ever want to fail. None of us ever want to be unworthy, not to measure up."

I read this book partly because I was interested in the "what is it like to grow up with a father who was a Black Panther" aspect of Ta-Nehisi Coates' story, and partly becau
Well, I really do not care to listen to hip-hop still. I was confused as to what "giving dap" was, so I had to google it and laugh. I fail miserably at that kind of thing with my kids when they try to do it with me.

But this book has left me thinking. It took me into a very unfamiliar territory, and not one I was completely comfortable with all the time. But Ta-Nehisi was able to articulate some really beautifully reflective observations about his people.

I learned that when I feel guilty in resp
Guy Gonzalez
I've been a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates via his blog at The Atlantic since '08, and fully expected to enjoy this memoir just based on the commonalities I'd already found in his writing. More than a memoir, it's a prose poem; a non-linear, unapologetically free verse ode to his formative years.

Five years my junior, Coates' childhood had many parallels and intersections with my own, and for me, this book is to memoir as Willie Perdomo's Nigger-Reecan Blues was/is to poetry. In the moments I didn't see
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues for and the magazine. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
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“I did not know then that this is what life is - just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you're swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.” 10 likes
“We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us.” 7 likes
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