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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  8,466 ratings  ·  928 reviews
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 history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoa ...more
Paperback, 227 pages
Published (first published 2008)
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Start your review of The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
He went back to Baldwin, who posed the great paradox that would haunt him to the end: Who among us would integrate into a burning house?
Where I come from, the white public has an extraordinary penchant for stealing the movement, language, all the etcs of a people you could ever imagine, from the black public. A word will come into a circle of white friends to use and lose and abuse, a segment of communication dehumanized as "slang" that will never be whole so long as it is spoken by tho
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
"But all of us need myths. And here out West, where we all had lost religion, and had taken to barbarian law, what would deb our magic? What would be sacred words?"
— Ta-Nehisi Coates


Beautiful. Haunting. Rythmic. Pulsing with life, love, and the development of consciousness. This is a memoir of a peer. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one year younger than me. We grew up watching the same things through different lenses. Watching the same play from vastly different seats. His was a lens of black America in
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Everyone knows Ta-Nehisi Coates from his more recent Between the World and Me. When I knew I'd be going to Baltimore for the first time, I went looking for books that were more than just crime novels (there are a lot of them set in Baltimore, thanks, The Wire.) This story of growing up in West Baltimore was a great choice.

Ta-Nehisi was born in 1975 and spent his childhood in West Baltimore. His father was an integral part in his upbringing, although not always present (Ta-Nehisi has six sibling
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Evan Leach
Coates’ first book, written seven years before Between the World and Me, is a memoir of Coates’ childhood growing up in inner-city Baltimore. The Beautiful Struggle revolves around the relationship between Coates, his father, and his brother “Big Bill.” Coates’ father, a former Black Panther turned independent publisher, is determined to see his children escape the streets and get them into Howard University. Opposing him are the many forces plaguing the inner city and, often, his sons themselve ...more
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kristy K
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Coates’ writing (and enjoyed it in the Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet graphic novel) so I was eager to dive into this book. However, I was a little underwhelmed. His story is interesting but I struggled while reading. It wasn’t as engaging as I thought it’d be. I still want to give his other books a try as those are the ones I hear most about. ...more
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
Carol Storm
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most incredible memoir I've ever read. It's as great as GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin or MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER by Nate McCall!

What makes this book so compelling, and impossible to put down, is not what Coates has to say about race in the abstract. It's how honest he is about the specifics of his own life. You can't help identifying with him, no matter what color you are, because he writes about how children feel about their parents in ways that are timeless and true. He
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Admittedly, I'm beginning to experience a sort of sedition of my critical faculties when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates' writing—journalistic and literary—isn't meant to be palliative in the least. But that's exactly the effect that this slim work engendered for me.

A Bildungsroman that's not exactly lyrical but poetic, The Beautiful Struggle has 90's urban-America's fingerprints all over it; it took me back to a time that was both simpler and treacherous:

"In those days Baltimore was factional
Jamie Nesbitt
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Coates' gift for wordplay is indisputable. Moving, lyrical memoir. ...more
⭐ Emerson ⭐
$4.99 on Amazon today.

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
Maya Smart
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Ta-Nehisi Coates’s unflinching essays on race. They exemplify journalism’s highest calling as a discipline of verification. He consistently eviscerates uniquely American delusions with deep reporting, impregnable facts and powerful prose.

Witness this brilliant story in which he lets confederates themselves declare the battle flag’s meaning, quoting long passages of their defense of slavery and white supremacy. Only the willfully ignorant or comprehension impaired can read it and credibly
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up. This book was not intended for a reader like me. I would estimate that I didn't understand fully 1/3 of the book because of not being familiar with so many of the cultural references and words I either hadn't encountered before or for which the meaning was clearly different than I understood it to be. However, I appreciated how the author shares his youth and the stories of his brother and his father and all of the intersections of the three lives. I got a real feel for the neigh ...more
I've been lucky enough to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak twice, and both times I've left the auditorium reflective and inspired. Coates often speaks and writes about structural racism, especially black criminality, where he explains that American society tends to create “boxes” of criminality around black people more readily than those of other races, and that black people are more often in violation of the law because the laws were written to specifically target them. Having lived in, covered, and ...more
Feb 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Book Riot Community
One of our foremost intellectuals takes a look back at his Baltimore childhood, his complicated relationship with his father, and his circuitous journey toward self-awareness. Coates’s is a dynamic voice that I look to for perspective and clarity on just about any issue of importance, and given recent events in Baltimore, it’s fascinating to watch him trace the origins of that voice. His next book, Between the World and Me, doesn’t come out until September, so those who can’t wait should get the ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ta'Nehisi Coates tells of his life in Baltimore growing up with his family in the ghetto. His father had been a member of the Black Panthers and raised his children to get knowledge by reading what most people did not know existed. I did not always understand what Ta'Nehisi was saying but I understood what his father was teaching him and his siblings. I also liked the history that we do not get in school. An interesting read. ...more
Winter Sophia Rose
Engaging, Deep, Soulful & Insightful! A Unique & Wonderful Read! I Loved It!
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story is especially gripping because of the tails about places and events that I grew up around. Great coming of age story for a Black Baltimore boy.
What a beautiful story. Not an easy story, but beautiful, just as the title states.

This is the memoir of Ta-Nahisi Coates. I think it is his first book. And he has gone on to write some real barn-burners.

But in this one, he recounts the story of how his father influenced him; how wonderful a man his father was.

It is 1974 in Baltimore MD. Ta-Nahisi is the issue of his father’s fourth liaison. Paul Coates is a man who had fathered 5 children before Ta-Nahesi. Paul Coates is a man to be feared AND
Karen O
I liked this book, but it doesn't have anywhere near the power and urgency as his other books that I've read: Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. ...more
I only understood about 60 - 70% of this memoir, but sometimes it's good to read a book that isn't meant for you. The writing is gorgeous and poetic as always.

2020 Catch Up Challenge: library book
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Originally published on my book blog,

With The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, I claim completion of the Ta-Nehisi Coates canon. (Not counting his work on Black Panther graphic novels.) Now I want to go back and re-read some of his later books with the perspective I just gained. First on my list would be his memoir and letter to his son, Between the World and Me. It feels like that’d be the full circle to this book.

In Struggle, Coates wr
dianne (off seeking immunity)
A memoir from one of our greatest minds. Unfortunately, it felt pushed and, to me, sounded like a long list of summary sentences, rather than a flow of events. It seemed like every significant event - which we can see are significant events - needed to be concluded with a Great Insight.

There is much good writing, but this just a bit of a disappointment after “Between the World and Me”. This was originally published in 2008, so written by a considerably younger man. i eagerly await more from the
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not exactly a companion piece or a precursor to Between the World and Me, but maybe a bit of both. An uncompromising father and two of his sons: one drawn to the streets and violence of West Baltimore, another more interested in Dungeons and Dragons but needing to know how to survive the streets. A father who was determined to know everything he could about the black diaspora in America, African roots, and dedicated to making that alternative to the usual rendering of American history available ...more
This is a worthwhile read for those who have read and appreciated Between the World and Me. It fills in the back story of Coates' young years in Baltimore up to the time he goes to college. Much of the story focuses on his father. Coates father was a Vietnam vet, turned Black Panther, turned Afrocentric publisher. He had 7 children with 4 women, being married to 2 of them, one Coates' mother. During Coates' teen years, his father focused on his publishing business that brought Afrocentric classi ...more
Seth Sawyers
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations." He lives in New York with his wife and son. ...more

Articles featuring this book

Author, journalist, public intellectual, and (in recent years) comic book writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates is an Extremely Busy Person by any metric, and...
100 likes · 31 comments
“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.” 27 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.” 13 likes
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