Coates is possibly the most important writer on race in this country today. I read everything he publishes in The Atlantic, and find him keenly insightful and illuminating, as well as eloquent. Between the World and Me delivers in some ways, but not in others. I’m going to say it’s a must read… for its ideas. But Coates is an essayist, and this—written as a letter to his son—is a kind of memoir, a form that demands rich storytelling. In this aspect, I found the book to fall a tad short. Coates tells far more than he shows, and his prose—so elegant in his essays—occasionally veers into the purple, and can be somewhat pedantic and repetitive. He establishes his thesis early on—that the White Dream is deadly to the Black body—and he goes on to replicate it in a kind of theme and variations. Between the World and Me is an homage to Richard Wright—whose very words and language he borrows from liberally*—and James Baldwin, whose “Letter to my Nephew” was the inspiration for this work. Wright tells a better story, imho, and Baldwin’s prose is simpler and clearer—and just as outraged and powerful. Criticisms notwithstanding, the ideas and emotions are absolutely vital to our national discussion. Read it.
*(For instance, Wright, Black Boy: “There was the hint of cosmic cruelty that I felt when I saw the curved timbers of a wooden shack that had been warped in the summer sun.” Coates, Between the World and Me: “And I felt in this a cosmic injustice, a profound cruelty, which infused an abiding, irrepressible desire to unshackle my body and achieve the velocity of escape.”)