Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Summary: Brilliant, beautiful, thought-provoking, highly recommended.
This is a collection of essays Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, one per year, while Obama was president. Each is a preceded by an introduction from the author, describing the context for the essay, including both where he was in his personal life and where we were politically. In this intro sections, he also talks about his writing process and what he thinks of his essays now that some time has passed. The author wraps up with a new essay including his thoughts on Trump’s election.
This is one of those books that is so good, it’s hard to do it justice in a review. Compared to Between the World and Me, I found this a more challenging read. Between the World and Me required me to think about every sentence, but it was short and personal and it mostly affected me emotionally. This was obviously a much longer book. It was still personal, but it addition to sharing the author’s perspective, it included a lot of information about politics. It also built a lot on the philosophies of previous important black authors and thought leaders on the topic of race. I’m not nearly as familiar with this earlier material as I should be, so while Coates gave me all the information I needed to understand the points he made, it was harder to follow.
As in Between the World and Me, Coates writing is beautiful, powerful, spellbinding. The density of ideas and emotions in his writing is overwhelming. Some of the ideas he explored were less novel than others, but reading this still made me think about them in more detail and in new ways. For example, it’s sadly not news that the Southern side of the civil war is still glorified in the south. I was less aware of the fact that many civil war histories present the war as a tragedy and I certainly hadn’t thought through what this meant. Spoiler – one of the things it means is that the civil war, which should be seen as a great triumph over slavery leading to freedom for black Americans, instead is officially presented as a tragedy for white people. Other ideas were more new to me, including the intro in which Coates writes about fear of black respectability, which challenges racist views more than the idea of black violence that racists claim to fear. This was a heavy, thoughtful, brilliant, exhaustive and exhausting work to read and digest, but well worth it. Highly recommended.