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Notes of a Native Son
 
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James Baldwin
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Notes of a Native Son

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  5,267 ratings  ·  132 reviews
Originally published in 1955, James Baldwin's first nonfiction book has become a classic. These searing essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and Americans abroad remain as powerful today as when they were written.
Hardcover, 0 pages
Published January 1st 1963 by Doubleday Books (first published 1955)
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Rowena
“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.” - James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin was a fascinating and eloquent man, one who I would have loved to have had a conversation with. His insights into racial issues are truly phenomenal.

This is a collection of short essays about Baldwin's experience with race. In the first three essays Baldwin critiques various books and movies on black c
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Nicole~
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won't destroy you.
- James Baldwin from "The Negro in American Culture", Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205

In his dramatic and provocative short piece Notes of a Native Son (1955) included in the ten essay volume of the same title, Baldwin connects a series of coincidental events, unifying them in a brilliantly conceived aesthetic
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Barry Pierce
This collection of essays is a rarity by the fact that every essay is as good as the previous one. There are no duds in this collection. This is by far one of the best collections I've ever read. Baldwin's prose is just so astoundingly beautiful. I may be premature in saying this but I feel that this may be Baldwin's greatest work. A collection so important, so accessible, so unforgettable that not reading this would be an injustice to you and your bookshelf.
Miroku Nemeth
I just finished James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" yesterday. Published in 1955, it has lost none of its relevance on many levels, and one of these is his argument that the representations of African Americans in and through literature and in movies and the role in which devices such as the "protest novel" are used to assuage liberal guilt and really do not bring about true societal change and instead foster a false sense of understanding and identification that still maintains the "otherne ...more
Tim
James Baldwin was one of the rarest of writers in the 20th century. Not only was he black and homosexual when it was not popular to be either (is it even acceptable to be so now?), but he is genuine, honest and addresses the toughest, most uncomfortable issues in the black as well as white worlds. He criticizes Richard Wright's "Native Son" (which does happen to be one of my favorite novels), but in other places has admitted his continued admiration for Wright, even after his harsh criticism. Ba ...more
Brett
James Baldwin on visiting his dying father in the hospital:

"The moment I saw him I knew why I had put off this visit so long. I had told my mother that I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I had hated him and that I wanted to hold on to this hatred. I did not want to look on him as a ruin: it was not a ruin I had hated. I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they
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Bruce
The focus of these essays is, of course, racism in America, and since they were written in the late 40s and early 50s, one might expect them to be dated. Baldwin, however, has sufficient breadth of vision to transcend topicality to make pertinent and scintillating observations about the human condition generally. Thus, in the first essay, "Everybody's Protest Novel," he notes that fitting into a racial stereotype is but one instance of the societal categorization from which "we endlessly struggl ...more
Bob Schnell
"Notes of A Native Son" is a collection of James Baldwin's essays up to the mid-1950's. Subjects are as diverse as a criticism of the movie "Carmen Jones" to his tale of Christmas spent in a Parisian jail. The common thread, of course, is his take on what it means to be black in America (or a Black American in other countries). Not only do the themes still resonate today, but his observations and writing style could be mistaken for a much more recent publication. The essay that stands out as my ...more
Jamie
Oh, just stunning. I've finally settled on Baldwin that I can unreservedly adore. "Another Country" annoyed me; "Giovanni's Room" I found frequently beautiful but ideologically frustrating (and sometimes uneven, stylistically). This, this, this! just incredible front to back. The title essay offers a powerful account of Baldwin's sense of coming to identity; his literary disputes are whipsmart and funny and important; and his essays on Paris among the v best writing I've read on expatriate forma ...more
Lee Anne
This is a great collection of Baldwin's essays. It's only semi-autobiographical, because he seems to veer away from the specifics of his home life a little bit, at least in the beginning (which was pretty damn rough). It's definitely not a memoir, as it's advertised (at least not in our current sense of the word). All of his essays have a point about race relations in America, so anything that he writes about his own experiences in Europe eventually end up back to why American blacks and whites ...more
Powells.com
These brilliant essays, which ultimately form a profound meditation on what it means to be "native" to this complex and brutal country we call America, were originally published in the 1940s and 1950s. Sadly, it came as no surprise to me how timely and important this collection remains today. Baldwin raises many important questions that both demand and deserve discussion, exactly the type of challenging discourse that, if more frequently practiced, could bend this nation in the direction of just ...more
Velvetink
Originally published in 1955, James Baldwin's first nonfiction book has become a classic. These searing essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and Americans abroad remain as powerful today as when they were written.

"He named for me the things you feel but couldn't utter. . . . Jimmy's essays articulated for the first time to white America what it meant to be American and a black American at the same time."
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr
Adam
I finished this collection of Baldwin’s essays shortly before visiting Harlem. But only one of the ten pieces in this selection, “The Harlem ghetto,” deals with his boyhood home and frequent subject. Instead, Baldwin reflects on his exile in Paris and a Swiss village, and the vantage point it affords him on his home of America.

It’s a wonderful collection, introduced by the “Autographical Notes” section in which he explains the evolution of his passion for reading as a young boy to his literary
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Baratang
My take on the first part of the book was that the author was just full of criticism,but not offering any suggestions as to how such misconceptions can be avoided in the future. Even though I have neither seen the movies nor read the books he was attacking, I imagine that they raised awareness about the American racial shame, which the author didn't care to acknowledge.

Part 2 on The Harlem Ghetto and Journey to Atlanta shed light on the living conditions of the Negros in that era. However, it wa
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Naeem
Sep 04, 2009 Naeem rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Steph
Recommended to Naeem by: Sara-Maria
Read the introduction as well as the 20 page essay that is also the book title.

I must have read Baldwin at a young age -- cannot now remember having done so.


The essay is powerful, powerful, powerful. Baldwin's writing is sparse, elemental, and surgical. He as no time for word play or oblique narrative flow. But neither is in a hurry to make a point. He gets right to it but then finds deeper and deeper kernels within and within and within the words and feelings.

The topic is the death of his fat
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Marti
This is a collection of the author's essays from the 1950s which cover his views on literature (Uncle Tom's Cabin and Native Son) and race in Hollywood (the film Carmen Jones which he thinks is a complete travesty). The best parts are his bits of autobiography such as his father's funeral in Harlem which happened the same day as one of the city's bigggest race riots; as well as an account of how he ended up in Parisian jail for eight days because he unwittingly accepted a bedsheet that a friend ...more
J.M. Johnson
This is possibly one of the greatest pieces of writing I have ever read. Baldwin is such a master of words and I was able to relive his experiences so vibrantly through his writing and learn some valuable lessons along the way.
"I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with the pain." Absolutely beautiful.
Lane
A challenging read. Baldwin is an interesting figure politically. He is not a liberal, but he is not a revolutionary either; he recoils intellectually from the prospect of the necessity of judgement or force, yet he thinks they might be necessary or inevitable. The experience of life in America forces him to see things from the political perspective of the Islamists and black radicals, yet he is compelled by a literary humanism he feels is his duty as a writer to never subordinate the singular h ...more
Henry Chavez
I have to preface my review by saying that James Baldwin was a brilliant writer, philosopher and natural academic. I am very interested in reading his fiction after this read. The book, Notes of a Native Son, are a collection of thoughts and experiences written as one would a personal newspaper column. The first two sections may be hard to get through. That said, I think it is important to read these first sections. If anything, one gets a feel for the authors perspective of other well known wor ...more
Brendan Cheney
I struggled with this rating. The essays are divided into three parts. The first part consists of book and movie reviews. Since I hadn't read the books or seen the movies he reviews, that part is hard to get into. The second part is about his life in New York. These essays have some of the best writing I have ever read. I flagged my favorite passages, something I never do. It was amazing. The third part contains essays from his time in Europe. These essays were really good - but not quite as goo ...more
Benjamin Dueholm
Nine years ago this book really shook me up, and re-reading it today I found it fully as powerful. The first two essays, the title essay, and the last two are overwhelming, but there is brilliance in each of the essays. On the offering taken up, in a Swiss village he visits, to "buy" and convert Africans to Christianity:

"I tried not to think of these so lately baptized kinsmen, of the price paid for them, or the peculiar price they themselves would pay, and said nothing about my father, who havi
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Jack Wolfe
Baldwin writes about many things here, and he was writing about them in the 40's and 50's, so it's easy to fault him for the stuff he doesn't quite get right; I suspect, for example, that feminist critics would be none too pleased with his rather one-dimensional portraits of women. But I think it's more important for us to remember all the things Baldwin DOES do so very, very well. I cannot imagine anyone taking umbrage with his style. His voice is so beautiful and clear and American, with the c ...more
Lauren
Overall, I found "Notes of a Native Son" to be well-written, and occasionally marked by a truly powerful quote. Often, however, Baldwin's writing struck me as somewhat preachy, and too impersonal. The essays in which he describes his own experiences and feelings-- including his difficult relationship with his religion-obsessed father, and an intense account of several days spent in a French jail-- are the strongest. Too often, however, Baldwin attempts to speak for African Americans, and sometim ...more
Garrett Peace
Wow.

1. Every essay in here is written incredibly well.

2. That doesn't mean every essay is great.

3. There are one or two that feel like filler, possibly due to the time gap: the essay(s) about entertainment at the time don't have as much impact now.

4. That doesn't mean those aren't good essays: it's still super fun - and thought-provoking - to see Baldwin absolutely rip into a movie or director or actor or so on.

5. "Notes of a Native Son" and "Stranger in the Village" make this a must-read co
...more
Barbaraanne
James Baldwin on the death of his father:

"It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices
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Lisa
Powerful, but the way Baldwin writes for his era doesn't, IMO, feel right for ours. I'm reading his essays after Michael Brown's death started a national conversation in Ferguson, MO, and I'm also reading it after having spent a couple of years traveling abroad as a person of color (though not Black). Many of his lines resonate with me, some with the additional pain of realizing things have changed so little in the decades since he was first published; others jar, like his generalizations on "th ...more
Cara Byrne
“It must be remembered that the oppressed and the oppressor are bound together within the same society; they accept the same criteria, they share the same beliefs, they both alike depend on the same reality” (21).

Overall, this was an insightful, interesting read. Baldwin's reflections on his family, race relations in the US and France, and literature provide some useful thoughts, but they are all to brief. I enjoyed the poetry of Ellison's _Shadow and Act_ a bit more than this work, but I appre
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Lindsey
I found the first few essays in this collection fairly disappointing. They felt stilted and dated, and I had a hard time motivating myself to keep reading. Because this book is so famous, though, I felt like I should finish it, figuring it would at least be good context for some of the other books I've read. I'm very glad I stuck with it because parts II and III were infinitely more engaging.

Part II contains the essays about Harlem, including the essay by the same name as the book's title, and
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Bal
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More about James Baldwin...
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“In overlooking, denying, evading this complexity--which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. It is this power of revelation that is the business of the novelist, this journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over other claims.” 18 likes
“I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”
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