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The Evidence of Things Not Seen

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  645 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Reprint. Originally published in 1985 by H. Holt.
Hardcover, 125 pages
Published April 1st 1998 by Buccaneer Books (first published 1985)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Susanna Sturgis
Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates (his recent Between the World and Me, his essay on reparations, and everything he posts to his blog) sent me back to James Baldwin, an important influence on Coates. I'd never read Evidence of Things Not Seen, but there it was before me at my town library's book sale so I brought it home.

If you've never read Baldwin, this isn't a good place to start. It's brilliant in places, but it's disjointed and fragmentary in others. The book was catalyzed by the murder
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1982, a Black man named Wayne Williams was on trial for the murders of 2 men. The “Atlanta Child Murders”, so named for the 23 black children around Atlanta Williams was suspected of killing (but never tried or convicted for), were troubling enough for James Baldwin that he returned from Paris to interview those close to the case. What he found was in many respects was not unexpected in a murder trial involving a Black man in America in that the evidence against Williams was flimsy, the judg ...more
This is basically a novella-length essay. I had seen it on a list of books to read & was interested because the topic was the Atlanta Child Murders (at least 26 children/teens & two adults, possibly more) & Wayne Williams. I remember this being in the news, though I didn't remember many details. I was intrigued because I had NO idea that Baldwin had traveled to Atlanta to report on this. (I also did not remember that Wayne Williams was tried for & convicted of the murders of the two adults kille ...more
Jul 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This meditation on the Atlanta Child Murders of black and poor youth (which many still believe did not start or end with Wayne Williams and even included little black girls) spirals out into a general indictment of American race relations--and black class divisions--during the Age of Reagan. At times muddled and repetitive, Baldwin regains his early brilliance and fire at certain points in this extensive essay; those circles of repetition become a leitmotif that everything is connected. Like eve ...more
Moved to Library Thing adaorhell
This means more to me because I miss Atlanta, I love Atlanta, Atlanta is my first wife, Atlanta is where I really made something of myself. I spent all of my twenties in Atlanta, and it may be where I spend the most time living in America, ever.

So to read these pages, where, if for not the Hand of Death, all of these men are still in charge, fills me with shame. Intense shame. Ugly shame. There is no reason for it. They've been there since before I was born, doing nothing for the same ugly parts
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
I fell in love with James Baldwin when I read The Fire Next Time. There is no other way to describe it. Reading this book posed a challenge, because I love him and want every word to turn golden. But that didn't happen here. It wasn't a true crime novel but rather used a true crime to examine many of the themes Baldwin has discussed elsewhere to sublime effect. But like great love affairs I think that the times of trial will render the golden words more significant and brilliant; now James is a ...more
I'll admit, I had expected more about the crime itself but... fuck. Just fuck. Baldwin truly has a way with words. This story was emotional enough before, but Baldwin's essay... just fuk. ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never read anything by Baldwin prior to this, but was moved to after watching the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” a few months ago (4 stars, Margaret). This essay (125 pages) from 1985 is ostensibly about the Atlanta child murders of the late 1970’s, but it is more a meditation on race relations in the US, on colour, on guilt (who is, who is not, who should be). It is an angry piece of writing, but not incoherently so. He is a very fine writer, very fine …

“The White man, someone told me,
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Musings prompted by the murders of black children in Atlanta 1979-1981. Many insightful passages; here are two:

pages 107-108, on the question whether the parents of the man accused of murder lied:
"This question is still left hanging, at least as far as Faye and Homer (and Wayne) Williams are concerned. And, though it is probably safe to suppose them capable of perjury in order to save their son, it is also worth pointing out that they do not, necessarily, feel any compulsion to tell the truth
Jonah Smartlett
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought the book was phenomenal. I see that many disagree.

But bravo to the editor that suggested that Baldwin take a trip down to Atlanta to write about the child killings and suspect (later convicted) Wayne Williams.
The details of the trial are, again and again, a launching point for Baldwin's jeremiads about race in America. If one is looking solely for a detailed analysis of the case- there is likely a better book. However, Baldwin's wide lens captures for those hoping to see complexities,
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
Are you kidding me? Of course 5 stars. It's one of the finest minds of the twentieth century writing a true crime essay about the Atlanta Child Murders that incorporates psychobiography, the colonial history of Georgia, racist renting practices, and the performance of class. I underlined the entirety of every other paragraph. It's essential. ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
I was in 1st grade in Atlanta when the child murders were going on and have specific memories about adult conversations about it and of parents at the bus stops watching the kids get on the bus safely. When I found out that Baldwin had written about the child murders and the subsequent trial, it seemed like the perfect Baldwin to pick up next. His writing is always powerful -- but at times it felt like he drifted between writing about the specific crime/trial and writing about bigger issues of r ...more
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read this in conjunction with watching the HBO series, Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children. Baldwin is brilliant, and at some points in this wildly digressive book, breathtaking. The series is very very good.
Kostas Kanellopoulos
Sep 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Evidence of mindhunter not seen. Sorry, James, sometimes even racists can catch serial killers
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A blistering attack on racial prejudice that is as gloriously written as it is passionate. It lacks focus but I feel like Balfwin wrote it almost in one draft and didn't edit himself. This makes his reasoning sometimes hard to follow. A near perfect work. ...more
Cheryl Goveia
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
The last work of James Baldwin. I was in high school in Alaska and in fact never heard about this serial murder case. This lengthy essay about the case, Atlanta, the state of racism in America could have been written yesterday. I'm sorry Baldwin didn't live to see Obama in the White House, but so glad he isn't here to witness the massive backsliding of our country, still struggling to move forward. The journalistic nature of this book and his segue style made it difficult to read, but worth ever ...more
Oct 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
baldwin's overuse of parentheticals and commas distracted from and destroyed any fascination i had with- and more importantly, the coherency of- his message. he should have yelled it from the rooftops instead of drown it in poetry. ...more
Enoch Page
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: whiteness, racism
Important book detailing why Wayne Williams, imprisoned in Atlanta, was not the murderer of all of those black boys who disappeared.
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
read it years ago, and while I'll have to revisit it to actually participate in a discussion, I remember being in awe of Baldwin's talent, insight, and the importance of his words. ...more
Carey Calvert
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you’ve ever watched a Spike Lee movie, you most likely marveled at his control of the camera – definitely more so than his acting - Lee has appeared in ten of his films, most notably She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X.

A Spike Lee Joint is known for story upon story upon story; an amalgam of whichever diaspora he chooses; one in which he never wades. He simply jumps in the Olympic size pool he’s created and swims 20 laps when he could’ve accomplished the same in 10. Or so i
William Leight
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a powerfully bitter document from Baldwin. Nominally about possible flaws in the case of a serial killer who was convicted of murdering a number of black children in Atlanta in the early ’80s, it’s really a testament to Baldwin’s frustrations at the failures of the civil rights movement. Baldwin uses the case as a frame to argue that the situation of black people in the U.S. hasn’t changed nearly as much as it needs to have, and that white power remains the organizing principle of the co ...more
Paul Clarkson
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I only recently read a James Baldwin piece/book for the first time, but since then have gobbled up a good number, and I will continue to do so. I love his intelligence, his insight and his well-honed and pretty accurate perception of human emotions, or lack of. But I struggled with this. Perhaps because it really was of its time, the time when the murders of almost 30 black children and youths in the late 1970's/early 1980's took place in Atlanta. I live in the UK and knew nothing of this and I ...more
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anybody that like historical accounts/commentary
Shelves: james-baldwin
The Evidence of Things Not Seen is an essay about the Atlanta Child Murder from 1979-1981. Wayne Williams was tried in a court of law for 2 murders of 2 adult men that completed a series of killings that included as many as 28 additional children during that period. The evidence presented in the trial convicted Williams of the final 2 murders, but the state suspected that we was responsible for at least 23 others. He would later be convicted with the weight of all those murders without ever havi ...more
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Yet, what the memory repudiates controls the human being. What one does not remember dictates who one loves or fails to love. What one does not remember dictates, actually, whether one plays poker, pool, or chess. What one does not remember contains the key to one's tantrums or one's poise. What one does not remember is the serpent in the garden of one's dreams. What one does not remember is the key to one's performance in the toilet or in bed. What one does not remember contains the only hope, ...more
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As with everything Baldwin wrote, this is pure magic. Dangerous and angry magic, but magic nonetheless. Baldwin is, on the surface, writing about the Atlanta Child Murders, but he ranges far and wide, spending most of the essay on the long, ugly, White Supremacist history of America and the world and how the circus of the Atlanta Child Murders case is probably as inevitable as the murders themselves. I love Baldwin, he was simply one of the smartest and most insightful writers of any generation ...more
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Calling all thriller lovers, do I have some great anti-racist reading recommendations for you. I did NOT pick these up knowing that they would fit my October *mood* so well, but my goodness, my heart was pounding through these:
Evidence of Things Not Seen:
Okay if “Spooky Baldwin” was ever a thing, here it is! If you watched Mindhunter season 2 and have not read this, you need it! At 120-ish pages, this long form essay is a searing look into why and how the conviction of a Black man for 2 murders
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick read, quick intro to the work of James Baldwin. No chapters, lots of run on sentences, Baldwin wrote like he spoke.

This book is centered around the Atlanta child murders of the 80s, and the trial of the man assumed to be guilty (though he was tried for killing two adult men). Baldwin talks about the mistakes of the prosecution, and the defense, and the widely held suspicions that Wayne Williams did not kill the 20+ children that were snatched, stripped, bathed, and killed...and who's murde
Jenny Poole
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a humdinger of an essay! I became interested in the Atlanta Child Murders after watching the HBO documentary series on the case. I do remember the troubles in Atlanta, as I was a teenager in 1980. But, I was much too busy to really pay attention to the news of the case. This was interesting to read. I still can't understand the decision by Playboy magazine to send a poet & literary lion when an investigative reporter was needed. I fully understand, and appreciate, that race played a major r ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poc-related
The book cover says that this is about the Atlanta child murders in the early 80s. And it sort of is. What it is actually about is the state of race relations in Atlanta, and the southern US, in the early 80s. The murders are just the foundation the discussion is built from.

This is not Baldwin's best work, in my eyes at least. It is still written in his well thought out style, but it feels a bit more unfocused than some of his other work. It didn't have the same impact. If you value his other es
Donna Bijas
May 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, non-fiction, lgbtqia
I’m a huge fan of Baldwin, but was disappointed with this, his last. The subject matter itself was compelling; however, the use of what seemed like millions of commas made this a difficult read. Having read and seen the show Mindhunter on this exact subject, I knew of the terror of the murders of all those Black children in Atlanta and the lack of support from white law enforcement. That is the crime to which Baldwin writes. I commend him for speaking up knowing nothing would come of it. Not my ...more
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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. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a minister. At age

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