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Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son / Nobody Knows My Name / The Fire Next Time / No Name in the Street / The Devil Finds Work / Other Essays

4.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,392 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Though one of the giants of 20th-century American letters he's often been marginalized, relegated to the ghetto of writers about race. This perception of Baldwin solely as a black writer--and thus one whose interest lies primarily in the sociological or the documentary--undercuts the real importance he's had in the development of postwar literature. The Library of America ...more
Hardcover, 869 pages
Published February 1st 1998 by Library of America (NY) (first published January 1st 1998)
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4.60  · 
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 ·  1,392 ratings  ·  72 reviews


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Hadrian
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, nonfiction, usa
While I respect and admire James Baldwin's fiction, I adore his essays. I saw the Library of America edition, remembered how much I loved reading his work, and got it right from the library the same day.

This collection of about 40 essays cover's Baldwin's work from the 1940s to the 1980s. He cuts to the center of an issue, and he has a gift for an elegant or incisive phrase. This collection also showcases his range - there are some outstanding pieces of art criticism here, including works on fil
...more
Gina
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
his essays really did change my life & the way i view everything around me. his writing makes me want to live, over and over and over again, with the biggest love (justice and liberation for all).
John
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Baldwin is distinctly American. His style is powerful and lyrical. He writes from pain, disillusionment, and passion.

His insights are profound, and reflect his deep thinking on the human condition.

This is the kind of book you want to permanently add to your library.

--John
Mario
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
YES.

The best volume of personal essays written by a single 20th century American author I've ever read.

If you're on the fence about this joint, I'd suggest taking a trip to the library or Barnes & Nobles or wherever you do your book borrowing or shopping and flipping to the essay towards the back called "Nothing Personal." ...This essay is not available, to my knowledge, in any other volume bearing Baldwin's name; the superlatively good character of this essay, in my opinion, is a reflection
...more
Charlie
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Maybe it's odd for a culturally caucasian half-Korean to identify with a gay black man from Harlem during the 50s, but maybe the sense of displacement and separateness that plagues Americans (or perhaps just myself, in those moments of ego when I'm prone to think of my life and my condition as uniquely troubling) is a universal feeling born from our existence as the "melting pot". Or maybe I just wish I had an ounce of Baldwin's ability to express ideas and beliefs in a clear and unpretentious m ...more
Dylan Suher
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I usually don't read for sentences particularly, but James Baldwin is very easily my favorite writer of sentences of all time, the perfect Republican diction, a mix of high and low inflected with KJV syntax, really, as far as I'm concerned, nobody does it better. I did not expect the collection to be so complete, but it was a good book to spend a few months with, to get into Baldwin's head and to feel his tangible pain as the civil rights movement faltered. Few people have been so honestly prick ...more
Tiffany Conner
Feb 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: indispensable
A woman I greatly admire introduced me to Baldwin's work. She gave me a copy of The Fire Next Time and I was instantly hooked. Baldwin manages to combine all of the sensibility of the New York intellectual while not losing his Southern roots. His prose is unlike anything. I wish more writers had his grasp of language and ability to be so honest.
Tony Hynes
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My teacher gave me this book as a high school graduation present. I read it nearly everyday for the next two years. Baldwins' eloquence about harsh issues reminded me that if he could endure in his time, so could I in mine. His essays portray race in America as not a black or white problem, but as a human problem, one which he didn't think would be solved by marches or bus boycotts.
Nick
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Americans
It would be dishonest of me to give this book anything less than a five-star rating because its messages get repetitive after several hundred pages, or because Baldwin's writing sometimes gets so abstract as to be meaningless. Those are irrelevant to the fact that I can't remember the last time a book moved me so deeply. I won't bore you with any of the things in this book that came as revelations to me, since they might already be common sense for you, but suffice it to say that a lot of things ...more
Amanda Williams
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The book that makes me want to be a writer. The book I most regret giving away. And am most willing to buy and annotate again.
Fareeda
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
It took me 6 months to read this 800+ page book. Not because of the length, but because I had to reflect on some of the essays. Reading this collection of essays was an eye opener for me. I only knew of James Baldwin as a gifted fiction writer. Through this collection of essays, I learned he was an activist; he had an active mind that explored just about every social topic and did an excellent job explaining it in black and white (literally and figuratively); about his childhood and his journey. ...more
Ian Mathers
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Naturally enough, decades later there are small elements of these essays that are, one way or another, out of date; but unlike many older writings I can think of that still have value, I don't recall a single instance where Baldwin lapses into cruelty or cant in a way that indicates he wouldn't have been able to keep up with the times if he were still with us. The most depressing thing about his work, in the days of Ferguson, is just how timely it still is. A beautiful, inspiring writer of clear ...more
Cynthia
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well, I have finished the essays in Notes of a Native Son. I had read some of them before, of course--the title essay, and "Stranger in the Village", and, as part of a study of Uncle Tom's Cabin, "Everybody's Protest Novel." But now I've read the other, less anthologized, more topical essays in this one collection as well. Reading them along with his biography, by his friend David Leeming, is interesting, the biography providing helpful context. In "Many Thousand Gone," about Richard Wright's Na ...more
GiGi
Apr 15, 2018 added it
Shelves: aa, non-fiction
Baldwin's honesty and smarts on full display here. Can be exhaustingly verbose at times, but everything I read in here was worth it. His analyses of America are absolutely cutting and struck a chord in me that I wasn't even really aware of.

I would like to make it known that the notes(they're not even footnotes, which I guess is a Library of America thing) for this edition are honestly not great, which is surprising, as it was edited by Toni Morrison. Not sure what happened there.
BHodges
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Baldwin is as excellent a writer as he is insightful. It's unsettling how relevant so many of his works are in 2017.
Kathy Chan
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Here is a book that I have read in high school, one that I wasn't able to conceptuatlized until now. It is also a book that I've been reading since freshman year of College; I've been both reading and rereading essays from this phenomenal book on an off for a few years now.

I knew that this was a book I had to come back to as it discusses topics that are still relevant in today's world.

What I will say is that books in the past are still making sense and are still relevant and relatable in the p
...more
Michael
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I cannot praise this book too much. I was quite literally blown away. The man was brilliant, and at his best, relentlessly honest and remarkably perceptive, not to mention, that he was also an extraordinary writer. The recent movie, "I'm Not your Negro," doesn't do him justice.
A random excerpt:
"One of the reasons I had fought so hard, after all, was to wrest from the world fame and money and love. And here I was, at thirty-two, finding my notoriety hard to bear, since its principal effect was t
...more
Matthew Baskerville
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This extensive collection of Baldwin’s essays is one I read as a Senior in High School and it is one that reshaped not only how I viewed the world, but how I viewed literature and how I viewed my own aspirations to be a writer in the sense that Baldwin influenced what it was I wanted to write about. I explored this collection almost by accident when I purchased it from a used bookstore, but I continued to read the essays contained within it, because I was learning so much from them. Baldwin’s li ...more
Quentin
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where to start? James Baldwin was brilliant, compassionate, funny (yeah, really funny), and put his mind towards all manner of subjects in his writing. Movies, politics, music, sex, religion, family, culture---all receive incisive and poetic analysis in this collection. I knew his work by reputation only--unfortunately, he wasn't taught in any of the schools I've attended. But I'm grateful that I sought him out. His understanding of American culture--and particularly the fundamental contradictio ...more
Linda Margaret
Jun 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
I really like Baldwin's essays about his time in Europe, although I also enjoyed his explanation of the riots in New York. He writes about his experiences in the Alps and being arrested in France. Anyone who has been abroad knows that not knowing the expectations that others have for you in a foreign environment and, worse, being thrown on their mercy when you are so completely clueless, can be really scary. Baldwin captures the emotions of these experiences very well and dissects them in a thou ...more
Tom Buchanan
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best
I kept reading that his later essays were "shrill" but guess what? When your early work is some of the best American stuff of the century, your slush pile can be half as good or worse and still be pretty great.
Valerie
Feb 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm typically not fond of omnibus collections, but having checked this one from the library today, I'm pleasantly surprised. It's fabulous to revisit a favorite author and sink deeply into the prose--and discover gems I would not have found otherwise.
Marie
Feb 17, 2010 added it
One of my absolute favorites, James Baldwin is a master poet and painter, who uses fiction to describe the movements of race and sexual orientation in America. He is perhaps my favorite author.
Jack Herbert Christal Gattanella
When it comes to writers in 20th century America and more importantly our thinkers and philosophers and the ones who can cut through the webs of bullshit to find the scared, pitiful but still human soul of the (white/patriarchal/still-not-over-slavery) country, im reminded of MLK saying after the victory in the bus boycott in Montgomery in 1956 (and im slightly paraphrasing): "dont think of (this victory in stopping oppression for blacks as that small... this is a victory for justice in the worl ...more
blakeR
Being an inexpert white guy, an attempt to thoroughly review and critique this book of predominantly black-centered racial analyses would be misguided at best. So I'll keep it short.

I love Baldwin's language and his organization of thought. He has the gift shared by many great thinkers of framing issues in such a way that they seem at once wholly fresh and deeply intuitive. His eloquence is one of his greatest strengths. Having been fortunate to see many of his interviews and speeches over the y
...more
Jason
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
James Baldwin places the enormity of his compassionate intellect upon the darkness infecting the hidden heart of America, the frayed strands of our common humanity & ,thus, the ageless questions of consequence to us all. A philosopher of the human heart & poet of the human soul, a witness testifying to our inhumanity with a terrifying beauty, devastating empathy, & profound clarity.

I urge anyone alive to hear this voice.

"The world has never lacked for horrifying examples (Birmingham
...more
Adelaide
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was glad to have read at least a portion of Native Son prior to this in order to understand the critique. It might have helped to see Carmen Jones, too, though just seeing the trailer was enough to hear the terrible accents. The essays about France and Switzerland were particularly notable to me as I listened to them in Austria and having been to remote Alpine villages like the one he describes. The way he broke down the categories of expats in Paris gave me a different perspective on post-war ...more
Joe
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
After seeing and being deeply moved by I Am Not Your Negro about a year ago, I thought it was time to reacquaint myself with James Baldwin, whom I had last read as an undergrad. I'm glad I returned to his work. His essays collected here are fierce, articulate, polemical, without ever lapsing into an easy identity politics. We could use a perspective like his in our current discussions of race and identity.

But also the sheer eloquence of Baldwin's writing is staggering! The man could write a sent
...more
Winmonroe
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
8/10

Read some random essays out of this after hearing all the hype from the recent movie. Of course, he is an important figure in american history, but my first thought was: Baldwin is a hell of a writer. His ability to balance wit and insight, the worldly and the transcendental, the personal and the political, all speak to his dynamism as a writer and an intellectual. The honesty of his writing and the heights to which it aims are deeply compelling and could really serve as a master course in e
...more
Todd
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This collection is excellent, and should be much more widely read. In fact, in my opinion, Notes of a Native Son should be required reading in all public schools. All the other essays in this volume are well written and speak to the heart of each issue/s covered. James Baldwin has a strong commend of the English language. Sometimes his prose is tough to digest, but that's no fault of his, rather of mine. I can't recommend this work enough.
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James^Baldwin

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. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a mini
...more
“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.” 170 likes
“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.” 11 likes
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