Rick Riordan's Reviews > Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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it was amazing

I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up this book, but that's true of many books I read. I simply felt like it was something I needed to read at that moment, and I'm very glad I did.

Between the World and Me is written as a letter/essay from Coates to his fifteen-year-old son, trying to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015. I almost said "make sense of what it means," but Coates' story is not so much about making sense as it is about finding one's place in a nonsensical context. He does not believe there is an answer to race relations. He believes (as I interpret it) that racial conflict is in itself an artificial construct and part of the Dream that keeps one group in power over another.

This is not a book written to explain the African American experience to white people (or as Coates likes to say, people who believe they are white.) As a middle-aged white guy, I am in no way the intended audience for this book. Perhaps that's what made it such an enlightening read for me. There was no sugar-coating, no careful racial diplomacy, no worry about mediating opinions to cater to what white people might be able to hear. It was just a heartfelt, raw, painful and honest letter from a father to a son, laying plain Coates' worry, anger, frustration, and fear for his son's future in light of Coates' own past and the world his son will grow up in. (There again: I almost said 'the world he will inherit,' but Coates would be quick to point out that this is white thinking. We grow up believing we can inherit the future of our country, whereas African Americans grow up hearing a very different message.)

Coates' most powerful assertion: doing violence to the African American body is an American legacy and tradition. It is not a failure of the system. It is part of the system. As much as may have changed in the past decades, the past centuries, the basic fear of African American parents remains: that their children can be snatched away, brutalized, killed for the smallest of reasons or no reason at all, and too often this violence is never addressed as anything more than an unavoidable force of nature like a hurricane.

We all tend to gravitate toward books that reflect our own experience, toward characters who look and act the way we do. I believe many white readers, if they are honest with themselves, will think, If I'm a white person, why should I read a book about African Americans? That doesn't have anything to do with me. Whites have the privilege of not thinking about race until some violence flares up on the news, and then we think of the issue as a fire to put out, not a sign of some endemic problem. This was true when I was growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s. It was true when I taught in San Francisco in the 90s. It's still true here in Boston in the 2010s. African Americans don't have the luxury of thinking about race only when it suits them. It is an omnipresent fact of life and death. It makes their experience of American society fundamentally different and exponentially more complicated. That's exactly why I'd recommend this book to white readers. Our bubble can be pretty thick. It is important for us to step outside ourselves.

Coates offers no answers, easy or otherwise. He believes in no grand vision. But he offers his son an honest assessment of his own experience and his own evolving thoughts on America. That's what rang true to me: a father talking candidly and caringly with his son. That's common ground I share with the author, as different as our experiences may be. This is a short book, easily finished in a couple of sittings, but it packs a punch. These issues aren't going away. They are only going to become more pressing. Read the book!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 24, 2015 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 69 (69 new)

James Radford Great review. You capture what I struggled with as a white reader of this book. To appreciate it as a white reader, I think you have to realize that it is a letter from father to son, so it is filled with raw, honest expressions of emotion. He's saying things to his son that he feels compelled to say because he wants his son to survive in the world and enjoy life as much as possible, so he needs his son to understand the nature of the world he lives in. He is not trying to construct an argument that might persuade a common denominator of people to accept any particular view of race, or any particular "way forward." As a father myself, I understand the sort of emotion that goes into what you say to your children, and keeping that in mind helped me to appreciate this book.

Linda This was exactly my experience with the book, except that I was already aware of Ta-Nehisi Coates from a number of news programs on MSNBC where he was interviewed and sometimes participated in panel discussions. His views were always insightful and well-reasoned. I learned a lot from those so I naturally wanted to read this book to go deeper. I have a feeling there will be a lot more to digest in subsequent readings.

He writes for The Atlantic where you can find articles such as 'The Case For Reparations' and 'The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration' which have also made a big impact.

Erika Well said !!!!

message 4: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Williams What a wonderful review. I share most of the same thoughts. This is not an Easy read...I was relived to hear that there is no answer, it is a never ending journey, battle, struggle, life long reality. Many of our African American people are ignorant of their history;just as many 'People who believe they are white' are. I think that's a start, know your history, Honestly.

message 5: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Etchepare Well said!!!

message 6: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Etchepare Well said!!!

Aditya Khandeparkar A very insightful review indeed! Loved it. It also brings forth a very balanced, empathetic and mature thought process that you are undoubtedly gifted with. I will surely be reading this book soon. Thanks for a splendid review.

Mr Gerald Your review captured the true essence of what he relayed to his son. More importantly, he attributed direct insight to the running emotion and experience African American Men experience in their life time.

Deborah Bussey Thanks for shari g this review. I actually believe that white people love this book so much because it allows them to stay cerebral about a very hard topic that is the lived reality for many people of color (not all); it allows them to experience any emotional discomfort in the comfort of their own space never having to experience the "punches" except metaphorically; it allows them to never have to do anything with the insights.

I found the book devoid of hope and lacking spiritual depth (a hallmark of the Black American experience and I am not talking about religion here) which is why I think it dangerous to let Coates' experience, however eloquently it is written, to define the black experience. It is a must read, but only because of its potential to turn the glowing reviews into changed behavior that will create the kind of world that we all want to live in.

Michelle Allen Spot on with my experience.

message 11: by E (new) - rated it 3 stars

E I wish I more often encountered such mature, thoughtful reflections as these. Thank you for writing an excellent review.

Imani This was a great review. I too feel the need to explore other genres of books. Regardless of whether or not I feel it's geared towards me as an "African American" woman.

Miles An excellent review. As a fellow middle-aged white guy, I also felt compelled to read this and am glad I did. I

Shanice This was a great review

Nicole Lane Phenomenal review! I find quite often that people see books or events they can't relate to as Other but you found common ground. I applaud this and your perfect review!

message 16: by Lynn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynn Excellent review. Our Bookclub chose this book and I don't know that I would have read it on my own, but I'm very glad it was this months pick. As a mom I can't imagine living with the anger, frustration, or fear Mr. Coates has had to live with but we are seeing exactly what he writes about being played out almost every single day and that is just plain horrible. Your review is spot on...I encourage anyone considering this book to read it as well!

message 17: by Teri (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teri I loved your review. It expresses my experience with this book far better than I was able to do.

Aishah Mitchell Excellent review!

message 19: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Buchanan Love this review and I'm about to begin my journey reading it now.

Nimalen fantastic review, you said it really well, think it's important for all of us, not just those affected by what goes on in this world, to understand and empathize with others that may live in a different world

Diana What a wonderful review, thank you!

message 22: by Luz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luz Blakney Great review! Thank you for sharing. I agree with you, I am so glad I read this short but powerful book!

message 23: by Stacey (new)

Stacey This review is simply spot on.

Nancy You articulated exactly what I am thinking. The very people who need to read this book won't. As I saw on some socks at the NYPL, we need to "Read before you think." Thanks for a great review!

Holly Well said

Mitch Brochu Spot on review, considering I also am a middle aged white male, this review sums up a lot of what I also took from Coates fantastic book.

Cheryl Thank you. You wrote what I think.

Rachel Winter Fantastic review

Kristin Leftwich I'm going to add to the thread of praise for this review. I couldn't have said it better. As uncomfortable it is to read as a white person, it's important we hear this.

Amber (Barnaby) Dier Well said!!

Ronald Phenomenal and honest review, Rick! You truly captured in your own personal assessment what Ta-Nehisi Coates conveyed in his volume that was written as a loving and elaborate, didactic letter to his young son. The book isn't accusatory or defamatory toward white people, but the book is mostly a searing collection of truthful messages toward his son to help him understand that the world is complex and as a young black man, Coates was giving him insight into navigating a journey through the complexity with hope, self-respect, courage, and acknowledging that he wishes him well as he sees all types of unforgettable things in America and beyond.

message 32: by Nijumu (new)

Nijumu Zabu I want to read it now

message 33: by Tara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tara You managed to write a great review about a great book!

message 34: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Such a great review!

message 35: by Carl (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carl great review!

Diane Your review was perfection! Thank you...

Julia I'm grateful to have found this review. It has helped immeasurably to put this book in the right perspective for me personally -- a white privileged middle class woman who wants to be an ally & "woke" but is terrified of "getting it wrong" or making it worse. Thank you Mr Coates for putting this book out there for the world (not just to your son) & thanks Mr Riordan for articulating what I needed to hear to help me understand this weighty work of non-fiction.

message 38: by Jude (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jude Great review Rick!

message 39: by jonathan (new) - added it

jonathan kersun Love the review. Offers an excellent interpretation of what the author seems to be saying. Find the authentic black narrative, study it, explore it, embrace it and treat all else as shackles, derivatives of the white oppressive narrative. Fascinating and eye opening.

Naiara I felt exactly the same way as you!

Richard Absolutely agree. What an incredible, enlightening, important book this is.

message 42: by Joan (new) - added it

Joan Wetherell What a clear, detailed, thorough review. Thank you. I will definitely buy and read this book.

message 43: by Nikki (new) - added it

Nikki P. I love this review; thank you for your time and thinking that you spent to write it. I have had this book on my "to read" list since it came out. It just got bumped up to the top. Most of all, I just found reading your review to be so hopeful. You're a middle aged white guy: not exactly a demographic known for their open mindedness towards anyone not them. But here you are: reading this book, really hearing the author and rethinking your own perspective. (I especially liked when you pointed out - twice - when your word choices reflected the thinking of the you before reading the book.) I'm looking forward to reading this!

message 44: by Khush (last edited Feb 06, 2018 06:14AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Khush I liked reading this review, it is so well written that I forgot about the book that is being reviewed.

Though I do not know much about the race relations in the US, I found two sentences in the review problematic.

a) ''It is an omnipresent fact of life and death.''
b) ''Our bubble can be pretty thick.''

These are two nice sentences, but both reek of insincerity. One writes them because one wallows, hopefully subconsciously, in the misery of others and somehow congratulating one-self and one's own privileges without realizing it.

if I further dissect these two sentences, a lot of rot will emerge. Do you know good people, well-intentioned people such as friends, siblings, parents? Those nice people who always say the nice things, right things and you trust them. Then one day you hear something, a word, a discordant note their voice, or detect a false, odd gesture, and then you really SEE.

These two sentences make me doubt the rest, by which I mean the best intentions of a wonderful review writer.

Thanks Rick for this review. Of course, I will read the book.

message 45: by Cortazor (new) - added it

Cortazor Nice review

message 46: by Kurt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kurt Ronn Trump is exhausting. I didn’t know if I had the stamina to read “Between The World And Me” as the world, particularly the white world, continues to get uglier. But I’m glad I finally picked up the book from my shelf. It’s been there for nearly two years staring at me. Today I read it. No question. This book should be required reading in all schools. All schools. All English classes. Put down Animal Farm, pick up Coates.

message 47: by Jordan (new) - added it

Jordan Excellent review

Elisa thank you for explaining this book to me!

message 49: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 25, 2018 09:01AM) (new)

This brought tears to my eyes. You're absolutely right that the Black American experience is exponentially difficult. Walking the other day, it just dawned on me that, despite the fact that I always try to make eye-contact with people no matter their race, many if not most white people could easily live a life not acknowledging my people or I. Needless to say this is depressing. I don't have a hate bone in me, unfortunately, but how do you keep granting people the same respect they wouldn't even think twice about not giving you—all while not shattering yourself in the process?

message 50: by Joseph (new) - added it

Joseph I agree with many people who I have responded, thank you for your thoughtful review. It really helped me get a better understanding of how this book was written and how you interpreted it. I honestly felt it was moving but wasn’t sure what the message was and after reading your review, I better see some elements I wasn’t able to put together on my own. Thanks!

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