Ta-Nehisi Coates’ List of 13 Recommended Books

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been rid­ing a wave so high these past few years that most hon­est writ­ers would con­fess to at least some small degree of envy. And yet anyone—writer or reader—who appre­ci­ates Coates’ rig­or­ous schol­ar­ship, styl­is­tic mas­tery, and enthralling per­son­al voice must also admit that the acco­lades are well-earned. Win­ner of the Nation­al Book Award for his sec­ond auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal work, Between the World and Me and recip­i­ent of a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” Coates is fre­quent­ly called on to dis­cuss the seem­ing­ly intractable racism in the U.S., both its long, grit­ty his­to­ry and con­tin­u­a­tion into the present. (On top of these cre­den­tials, Coates, an unabashed com­ic book nerd, is now pen­ning the revived Black Pan­ther title for Mar­vel, cur­rent­ly the year’s best-sell­ing com­ic.)

As a senior edi­tor at The Atlantic, Coates became a nation­al voice for black Amer­i­ca with arti­cles on the para­dox­es of Barack Oba­ma’s pres­i­den­cy and the boot­straps con­ser­vatism of Bill Cos­by (pub­lished before the comedian’s pros­e­cu­tion). His arti­cle “The Case for Repa­ra­tions,” a lengthy, his­tor­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of Redlin­ing, brought him fur­ther into nation­al promi­nence. So high was Coates’ pro­file after his sec­ond book that Toni Mor­ri­son declared him the heir to James Baldwin’s lega­cy, a man­tle that has weighed heav­i­ly and sparked some back­lash, though Coates court­ed the com­par­i­son him­self by styling Between the World and Me after Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. In doing so, writes Michael Eric Dyson, “Coates did a dar­ing thing… waged a bet that the Amer­i­can pub­lic could absorb even more of the epis­to­lary device, and wrote a book-length essay to his son.”

Not only did Amer­i­ca “absorb” the device; the nation’s read­ers mar­veled at Coates’ deft mix­ture of exis­ten­tial tough­ness and emo­tion­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty; his intense, unsen­ti­men­tal take on U.S. racist ani­mus and his mov­ing, lov­ing por­traits of his close friends and fam­i­ly. As a let­ter from a father to his son, the book also works as a teach­ing tool, and Coates lib­er­al­ly salts his per­son­al nar­ra­tive with the sources of his own edu­ca­tion in African Amer­i­can his­to­ry and pol­i­tics from his father and his years at Howard Uni­ver­si­ty. In the wake of the fame the book has brought him, he has con­tin­ued what he seems to view as a pub­lic mis­sion to edu­cate, and inter­views and dis­cus­sions with the writer fre­quent­ly involve digres­sions on his sources of infor­ma­tion, as well as the books that move and moti­vate him.

So it was when Coates sat down with New York Times Mag­a­zine and ProP­ub­li­ca reporter Nikole Han­nah-Jones at New York’s Schom­burg Cen­ter for Research in Black Cul­ture last year. You can watch the full inter­view at the top of the post. Dur­ing the course of the hour-long talk, Coates men­tioned the books below, in the hopes, he says, that “folks who read” Between the World and Me “will read this book, and then go read a ton of oth­er books.” He both began and end­ed his rec­om­men­da­tions with Bald­win.

1. “The Fire Next Time” in Col­lect­ed Essays by James Bald­win.

2. The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Inves­ti­gates the Dark­est Sto­ry of His Life, His Own by David Carr

3. The Half Has Nev­er Been Told: Slav­ery and the Mak­ing of Amer­i­can Cap­i­tal­ism by Edward E. Bap­tist

4. Bat­tle Cry of Free­dom: The Era of the Civ­il War by James McPher­son

5. Mak­ing the Sec­ond Ghet­to: Race and Hous­ing in Chica­go, 1940–1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch

6. Fam­i­ly Prop­er­ties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploita­tion of Black Urban Amer­i­ca by Beryl Sat­ter

7. Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­i­ca — Dec­la­ra­tion of the Imme­di­ate Caus­es Which Induce and Jus­ti­fy the Seces­sion of South Car­oli­na from the Fed­er­al Union from Aval­on Project, Lil­lian Gold­man Law Library, Yale Law School

8. Show­down: Thur­good Mar­shall and the Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion That Changed Amer­i­ca by Wil Hay­good

9. Amer­i­can Slav­ery, Amer­i­can Free­dom: The Ordeal of Colo­nial Vir­ginia by Edmund S. Mor­gan

10. Race­craft: The Soul of Inequal­i­ty in Amer­i­can Life by Karen E. Fields and Bar­bara J. Fields

11. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in Amer­i­ca by Paula Gid­dings

12. Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Cam­paign against Lynch­ing by Paula J. Gid­dings

13. Out of the House of Bondage: The Trans­for­ma­tion of the Plan­ta­tion House­hold by Thavo­lia Glymph

Final­ly, Coates ref­er­ences the famous debate between James Bald­win and William F. Buck­ley at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty in 1965, which you can read about and watch in full here.

via The New York Pub­lic Library

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Toni Mor­ri­son Dis­pens­es Writ­ing Wis­dom in 1993 Paris Review Inter­view

James Bald­win Bests William F. Buck­ley in 1965 Debate at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

Ernest Hem­ing­way Cre­ates a Read­ing List for a Young Writer, 1934

Michael Stipe Rec­om­mends 10 Books for Any­one Marooned on a Desert Island

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.