Review: Between The World And Me

Between the World and Me caught a fair amount of attention for its frank and clear assessment of the dialog between black men and their sons, not to mention between black society and America as a whole.  It is all that – and that’s a lot – but it’s also something more special.

As harrowing and sometimes appalling as America’s treatment of black people has been, there are many heartfelt factual histories of that treatment and the ongoing evolution of that situation.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work here is more brave and personal than most.

Here is what I’ve learned about Mr. Coates from Between the World and Me: he’s a deep thinker and a poetic writer.  The abstractions and metaphors he chooses when writing of his experience illuminate people and institutions in personal and unique ways.  Individual word choices turn colleges into churches and human policies into automations of menace.  His expressions are clear and powerfully show institutions and experiences in new ways.

Beyond that, Coates is an atheist.  His point is not to justify his religious position, but it informs everything he writes.  He speaks of how American systems control the bodies of black people; he describes the mixed feelings that the power of churches in the black community evoke in him – and particularly how his beliefs can deny him solace.  The reflections of his atheism are only one way that World is powerfully personal, but it is unusual and telling.

Overall, a brilliantly written mixture of memoir, position paper, and message to the future (the text is written as a message to his son) well worth one’s time.

Strongly recommended.

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