Book Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


I purchased Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me soon after its 2015 release, but only recently read it all the way through. I’m not sure what originally led me to it or why I didn’t dedicate myself to reading it when purchased, but there it was on my shelf, ready for me to absorb now.

The timing was perfect. My Thirties has introduced an assuredness in my distinct, black, male body that is exhilarating. I am here, 32, as myself, and am navigating the world with an intentionality that comes with finally growing tired of assuming I was born flawed. Coates' words assured me of this newfound truth, and why it’s important to keep it sacred.

Written to his son, this book reminded me of my father, of what he said and tried to say to me when alive. Sentiments like “don’t do as I did” and “stay focused” echo throughout Coates’ pages, just like it echoed in my childhood ear each time my father sat me down to talk. But Coates displays a boldness that adds new depth to my father’s memories. More than a father-to-son instructional, Between The World and Me is a reflection of what it means to be explicitly black in a country that has pillaged, extorted, and profited from that blackness throughout its history. Coates wants his son to understand that fundamental truth, which is not to dissuade him from thriving, but to keep him intentional and aware of his intrinsic value.


Understanding that the country you call home has not and does not have your best interest at heart takes some getting used to. But Between The World and Me begins with the acquittal of Mike Jones’s killer, yet another police officer who killed an unarmed black man and walked away free. Seeing his son emotional as the news of the trial’s outcome developed, Coates told him what was necessary to understand:

What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: That this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

Navigating that world is a recurring theme throughout Between The World And Me. As it unfolds, we see Coates disrupting the cosmic tension that kept him from discovering universes beyond an American perception. We see him unpacking what it means to be an outsider in a foreign land, how it feels to be free from the weight of immediate vilification that is all too common in his home country. Yet we also see the universality of black oppression, how our global status is both our challenge to resist and a part of what ignites the magic within our culture. 

I deeply resonated with this book, and connected with Coates in many ways. He came of age around my hometown of Prince George’s Country, Maryland; we both left our pursuits in traditional higher education unfulfilled. And we’re both black men who, in our distinct approaches, are crossing the bridges between the world and ourselves one brick at a time.

As Toni Morrison states, this book is "required reading." Absorb each word in your body, deeply feel the nuances of black identity, and let it remind you that though America is indeed a melting pot of many cultures, its roads are paved with broken and breaking bones.