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

New York Times best seller and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Between the World and Me has been named one of the best nonfiction books of the decade. Toni Morrison has hailed it “required reading.” I encourage you to listen to the audiobook with Coates’ own voice as he addresses some of the biggest questions about American history and imparts wisdom to his son. His work, hopefully, leads to discussion for all. HBO produced an adaption in 2020 with some readings and documentary footage. Discussion guide below for Between the World and Me.

Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of Black women and men - bodies exploited through slavery and segregation and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a Black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?


Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son - and listeners - the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.


Discussion Guide

  1. Very early in the book Coates says that “Americans have deified democracy in a way that allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God.” What did he mean by that?

  2. There are moments of true joy, like his trip to Paris. How does his travels and expanding world view help balance the rest of the letter?

  3. Coates uses the metaphor of the Dream to describe white privilege. How do you define the Dream? How do you wake up from it?

  4. The book was written in 2015, at the early stages of the Black Lives Matter. Do you think the movement has changed anything?

  5. From a book review: “Freedom, opportunity and education are all part of being equal citizens in the first world. But these are things of the mind. If you can’t even keep the body safe, then what use are intellectual pursuits and a law guaranteeing you rights?”

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