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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  28,055 ratings  ·  3,281 reviews
"We were eight years in power" was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the ...more
Hardcover, 367 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by One World
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Nancy I think it'd be great for book club - there's definitely a lot to discuss! There's an essay from each year that Obama was in office, so it provides a …moreI think it'd be great for book club - there's definitely a lot to discuss! There's an essay from each year that Obama was in office, so it provides a historical framework. Coates prefaces each essay with his thoughts about the piece now, so you can analyze his analysis :)(less)
Natasha I agree with Susan. Also because Coates speaks in depth about his friend Prince's death in Between the World and me, and makes reference to it in Eigh…moreI agree with Susan. Also because Coates speaks in depth about his friend Prince's death in Between the World and me, and makes reference to it in Eight Years. However, Eight Years can be picked up and put down between chapters. So, if you wanted to totally nerd out, you could start with Eight Years, then stop and read Between the World and Me after "year 6" of eight years. (less)

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Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Review forthcoming. Thoughtful, sobering essay collection with moments of memoir. Some exceptional moments, some repetitive ideas, a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender. Well worth a read.
Bill Kerwin

In We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me (2015), has given us not only another essential work of African American literature but also a classic example of American prose.

Although it lacks the concentrated power and beauty of Between the World and Me, there is a good reason for this, for it is a collection of eight essays written for The Atlantic Monthly over a period of eight years, the years of the Obama presidency. In the prefatory “notes” to each
Always Pouting
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ta-Nehisi Coates was unemployed and struggling before Obama's presidency was announced. With a black person running for president, and becoming president though there was a shift in the opportunities available for a writer who was addressing race. Ta-Nehisi Coates puts together eight essays he wrote through out the years of Obama's presidency and reflects on them in terms of his own head space at the time he wrote them and his growth as a writer. He tries to explain to us what he was trying to c ...more
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"White people are, in some profound way, trapped; it took generations to make them white, and it will take more to unmake them."
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, from his notes to the fourth year, We Were Eight Years in Power


The framework is basic. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes one essay he wrote from the Atlantic during each of the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency*. That's it. Well, actually, if that was it you could just Google his Atlantic essays (see list below) and not have to bother with the book. The

I cannot stress enough how essential this book is to the world and most importantly to America. This book comes at the most relevant time in America's history and should be read by every American. I am not even American and this book spoke to me in ways I could not imagine. Ta-Nehisi Coates is as Ghostface puts it, "an arsonist who burns with his pen".

The writing in t
Nov 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
A collection of eight essays first published in The Atlantic, We Were Eight Years in Power reflects on the deteriorating state of race relations in America during the Obama presidency. The subjects of the essays are wide in scope, ranging from Michelle Obama’s representation of herself on the campaign trail to the legacy of Malcolm X. In the two best essays, “The Case for Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Coates writes urgently about history, race, and politic ...more

”People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast”

“Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There's room for all
Among those loved the most”

-- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

In 1895, South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the State’s constitutional convention with these words -

‘We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provid
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hardcover, 2018
The main essays in We Were Eight Years in Power are reprints from articles Coates wrote for The Atlantic. Preceding each of those articles (except the epilogue) is a new, shorter essay in which he contextualizes the article within both public history and his own personal development as a writer.

The best article of the first half of the book was “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?,” in which Coates debunks the “lost cause” narrative for the War, and asks “what it means to live in a country
Dan Wilbur
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don’t want to spoil anything, but at the end of this book, Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. It’s a bummer.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I of course read Ta-Nehisi Coates bestseller Between The World And Me and loved it(I may reread just to give it a proper review). So when I heard he was publishing a collection of essays he wrote for The Atlantic during the Obama years, I knew I had to read it.

I like Mr. Coates felt that the 2016 election of 45 simply reconfirmed my disgust for "my" country. This book is a gut wrenching and maddening overview of what lead the majority of white Americans to follow the Presidency of the first bla
Elle (ellexamines)
I think commentary on a nonfiction book of this style is somewhat hard to do, so here are a few, brief thoughts.

Each of these essays stands alone as fascinating and relevant reads. I have read The Case for Reparations before and it still resonates well. Elements of the book as a whole, especially examples used to back articles (the same statistics will be cited, and the same personal anecdotes), feel a bit repetitive—factor of the compilation. I think this is fine. There is still original thoug
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Audiobook narrated by Beresford Bennett 13h 39m

I have so much to say, but find it difficult to articulate all my thoughts and feelings. Although I think I prefer my "Between the World and Me" audio because it is narrated by the author, this is definitely a great audio that I would recommend. As many of my fellow reviewers have already stated, this is a collection of eight essays written by Coates during the Obama presidency. I only discovered the author in 2017 and I truly enjoy his perspecti
B. P. Rinehart
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the willows
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for entertainment,
our plunderers demanded songs of joy;
they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
but how can we sing the Lord's songs in a foreign land?
" - Psalm 137:1-4

"I had started in an unemployment office . I had started with the refuse of failure — a reporter’s pad half - filled with notes on some soon - to - be - disgraced entertainer — had graduat
Coates intersperses notes of his experience each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency along with some of his carefully-researched larger essays previously published in The Atlantic. It is especially worthwhile to read again his earlier pieces in their context with the hindsight a few years bring, and not having to search around several places for his ideas makes this book especially valuable. Most of us were not prepared for Ta-Nehisi Coates when his work first appeared in the monthly magazi ...more
Clif Hostetler
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-events
This book is a collection of eight essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates previously published in The Atlantic, one from each year of the Obama administration. Each essay is accompanied with an opening commentary that describes the circumstances, political environment and state of mind in which the essay was written including the author’s personal and professional situation at the time.

In a real sense this book is a recapitulation of some political issues taken from the past eight years and examined from a
Bam cooks the books ;-)
An excellent collection of essays written by Coates during the eight years of Barack Obama's administration. Where is the 'American tragedy' you may ask? In what follows those eight years. In the shattering of 'the dream of a post-racial America.'

"...writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one's roots or expertise or even one's own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience."

In these ess
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Off and on throughout the years, I've gone through major stints into the world of political thought, diving in head-first to swim through the sometimes murky and oftentimes polemical and myopic drive for change.

This is not one of those books. Each essay in here is very well researched and backed up with a plethora of references I've either already read before or have been featured in grand scale elsewhere.

The big question being raised must also be willing to be extremely courageous.

We might ass
Roy Lotz
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting black communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.

With this book, Ta-Nehisi Coates has turned what could have been a routine re-publication of old essays into a genuine work of art.

The bulk of this book consists of eight essays, all published in The Atlantic, one per year of the Obama presidency. But Coates frames each one with a kind of autobiographical sketch of his life leading up to its writ
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very good collection some of Ta-Nehisi's essays from the past eight years. I had read five of them before and my intention was just to read the three that I had not read and the new essays but I changed my mind. His new essays preface the ones that he wrote for The Atlantic. He talks alot about where he was as a writer and what he was thinking about race relations. The new essays were so good that I felt compelled to reread the old essays. Overall I highly recommend this book to reade ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the go-to guy on writing about race from the perspective of African-Americans. Happily, this is a role he doesn't shirk from, in fact he eagerly embraces his status. "I had become The Atlantic’s “Black Writer”—a phrase that described both my identity and my interests. There was always a sense that African American journalists should avoid being tagged as “black” lest they be “boxed in” and unable to pursue more “universal” topics such as the economy and global ...more
Donna Davis
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people of color, and Caucasians that can stand the heat
Ta-Nehisi Coates is pissed. He has a thing or two to say about the historical continuity of racism in the USA, and in this series of eight outstanding essays, he says it well. I read it free and early thanks to Net Galley and Random House, and I apologize for reviewing it so late; the length wasn’t a problem, but the heat was hard to take. That said, this is the best nonfiction civil rights book I have seen published in at least 20 years.

Coates started his writing career as a journalist, and be
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Some parts were a bit repetitive but I'll give it a pass because this book is a collection of essays/articles Coates wrote in the 8 years of Obama's presidency, so they weren't originally telling a singular story therefore the repetition wasn't repetitive in its individual publishing.

In this Coates discusses mass incarceration, redlining, the Civil War, reparations, Obama, Black Power Movement, Trump, and also debunks the newly-created and annoying myth that white America has always loved MLK an
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, diverse
I cycled through rage and anguish while reading this. It is a thorough retrospective on the (all too brief) moment of Obama's presidency, how it fits into the writer's life and how it fits into America's history. ...more
A must-read. One of the most important books I’ve ever read.
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an incredibly smart human being with great writing chops. His essays are thoughtful, if not provocative, with several compelling arguments and stand-out lines. His writing enlightened me with topics I haven't thought deeply enough otherwise (i.e. the complexities of black conservatism, the case for reparations). Even the topics I was already familiar with (i.e. Obama juggling his black identity vs leading a white supremacist country) could still be enjoyed without feeling red ...more
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
It’s good because Coates is an excellent writer and thinker so 5 stars for that, but it’s a collection of essays that he’s already published so there’s really nothing new here except the prologue to each essay. Those words are good and it was nice to read the essays again in order, but it’s not a new work.
Patrice Hoffman
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Where do I begin when reviewing We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates? I don't think... actually... I know I don't have the words to express how impressive this collection of articles is. I'm reminded of Zoolander 2 when Zoolander says he literally does not have the vocabulary to respond. I am in that moment. For those thinking what an idiot I am for throwing Zoolander into a review of Coates, who is a stunning writer, is absolutely correct. So...

For those familia
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book of essays is worth a read and made me think in new ways. Specifically, I saw a black conservatism I didn't know about before (from people I side-eye like Bill Cosby to people I admire like Barack Obama). My favorite essay by far is "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" for its insight on revising and reframing history. Coates is skeptical and thoughtful. ...more
Neil R. Coulter
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We Were Eight Years in Power is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read. The individual articles, originally published in The Atlantic, are excellent, but what makes this book so fantastic is that we get to see not just those articles, but also the journey of the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Just reading the articles alone would give an interesting glimpse into his story. We see him beginning with fascinating and relatively brief essays on a range of topics related to race and blackness in Ameri ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020

Reading this felt especially poignant at the very start of an election year, in the middle of an impeachment and growing tensions in Iran. Coates has a wonderful essay style and this collection does something that I love: add material and context and a through line for the collection. I loved hearing from Coates about what inspired each piece, what he was trying to get at and his own views of where he succeeded and where he failed. I also enjoyed the conceit of one essay for each year Obama was
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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...
102 likes · 31 comments
“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” 200 likes
“Every Trump voter is certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it was acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.” 77 likes
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