…taking in Coates's essays from start to finish is…a bracing thing, like drinking a triple scotch, neat. Perhaps an even more compelling reason to read We Were Eight Years in Power is for the new material Coates has written. He introduces each magazine story with an essay that serves not just as connective tissue, binding one work to the next, but as meta-commentary, reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's italicized re-reflections in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. He calls each one "a kind of extended blog post," offering a glimpse into what he was thinking and feeling when he wrote the article that follows it. You see in these mini-essays the same mixture of feelings that saturated his two previous works, The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me: pessimism and vulnerability, mistrust and melancholy, anger and resignation.Eight Years could have settled for being the obligatory miscellany that too often follows a writer's masterpiece; instead, the book provides a master class on the essay form. Structured as a call and response between eight of his most significant articles and briefer, more personal essays arranged by year, Coates gives us something between a mixtape and a Künstlerroman, demonstrating how he came to dominate the nonfiction genre. Even without the framing of the lively if clipped "this is what I was doing that year" portions, we can see Coates's growing power and prowess from the progression of the pieces themselves…Coates's book brings us to a boil, then lets us simmer, and anyone who wants to know who we areand where we are nowmust sit with him for a good while. Eight Years confirms why Coates is enjoying his extended moment, while also pulling back the curtain on all the hard work that preceded and produced his success. It should inspire us as writers, and as Americans, that he urges us, in exile or online, to become betteror at least clearer on why we're not.★ 08/14/2017
National Book Award-winner Coates (Between the World and Me) collects eight essays originally published in the Atlantic between 2008 and 2016, marking roughly the early optimism of Barack Obama's presidency and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The selection includes blockbusters like "The Case for Reparations" and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," which helped to establish Coates as one of the leading writers on race in America, as well as lesser-known pieces such as his profile of Bill Cosby (written in late 2008, before the reemergence of rape allegations against Cosby) and a piece on Michelle Obama before she became first lady. The essays are prefaced with new introductions that trace the articles from conception to publication and beyond. With hindsight, Coates examines the roots of his ideas ("Had I been wrong?" he writes, questioning his initial optimism about the Obama Administration) and moments of personal history that relay the influence of hip-hop, the books he read, and the blog he maintained on his writing. Though the essays are about a particular period, Coates's themes reflect broader social and political phenomena. It's this timeless timeliness--reminiscent of the work of George Orwell and James Baldwin--that makes Coates worth reading again and again. (Oct.)This review has been corrected; an earlier version said he won the Pulitzer Prize, for which he was nominated; in fact he won the National Book Award.05/01/2017
Coates follows up his National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me with essays that sweep through the Obama era. Included are annotated versions of much-discussed pieces he wrote for the Atlantic, including "Fear of a Black President"; two new essays that reassess the Obama era and consider what's to come; and a think piece based on Coates's interviews with President Obama during his final year in office.★ 2017-08-07
Biting cultural and political analysis from the award-winning journalist.Coates (Between the World and Me, 2015, etc.), a MacArthur Fellow and winner of the National Book Award and Kirkus Prize, reflects on race, Barack Obama's presidency and its jarring aftermath, and his own evolution as a writer in eight stunningly incisive essays, most of which were published in the Atlantic, where he is national correspondent. He contextualizes each piece with candid personal revelations, making the volume a melding of memoir and critique. The opening essay focuses on Bill Cosby's famous effort to shake black men "out of the torpor that has left so many of them…undereducated, over-incarcerated, and underrepresented in the ranks of active fathers." Cosby's black conservatism, writes the author, reflected "a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred." Obama's ascent, though, felt like "the wind shifting," and it coincided with Coates' visibility as a writer. After writing a profile of Michelle Obama ("American Girl"), he started a blog that came to the Atlantic's attention and soon joined the magazine. After "Fear of a Black President" won a National Magazine Award in 2012, Coates was sought out as a public intellectual for his insights about race. His conclusions are disquieting, his writing passionate, his tenor often angry: "white supremacy," he argues, "was so foundational to this country that it would not be defeated in my lifetime, my child's lifetime, or perhaps ever." He considers "The Case for Reparations" to be "the best piece in this volume to my mind," but surely "My President is Black," his assessment of Obama ("he walked on ice and never fell") and crude, boorish Trump, is a close contender. Coates considers bigotry to be the deciding factor in Trump's appeal. "It is almost as if the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted Trump personally," and he unleashed violent resentment among his supporters. Although Coates subtitles the book "An American Tragedy," he allows a ray of hope for "a resistance intolerant of self-exoneration, set against blinding itself to evil." Emotionally charged, deftly crafted, and urgently relevant essays.
“Biting cultural and political analysis from the award-winning journalist . . . [Ta-Nehisi Coates] reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its jarring aftermath, and his own evolution as a writer in eight stunningly incisive essays. . . . He contextualizes each piece with candid personal revelations, making the volume a melding of memoir and critique. . . . Emotionally charged, deftly crafted, and urgently relevant.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Ta-Nehisi Coates has published a collection of the major magazine essays he wrote throughout the Obama years. . . . But Coates adds an unexpected element that renders We Were Eight Years in Power both new and revealing. Interspersed among the essays are introductory personal reflections. . . . Together, these introspections are the inside story of a writer at work, with all the fears, insecurities, influences, insights and blind spots that the craft demands. . . . I would have continued reading Coates during a Hillary Clinton administration, hoping in particular that he’d finally write the great Civil War history already scattered throughout his work. Yet reading him now feels more urgent, with the bar set higher.”—Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post
“A master class . . . Anyone who wants to know who we are—and where we are now—must sit with [Ta-Nehisi Coates] for a good while. . . . It should inspire us as writers, and as Americans, that he urges us . . . to become better—or at least clearer on why we’re not.”—Kevin Young, The New York Times Book Review
“Coates . . . eloquently unfurls blunt truths. . . . Such a voice, in such a moment, is a ray of light.”—USA Today
“There is a fresh clarity to [Coates’s] voice—urgent, outraged, electric—that’s never felt more necessary.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Indispensable . . . bracing . . . compelling . . . A new book from Coates is not merely a literary event. It’s a launch from Cape Canaveral.”—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
“Essential . . . Coates’s probing essays about race, politics, and history became necessary ballast for this nation’s gravity-defying moment.” —The Boston Globe
“Coates’s collection of his essays from the past decade examine the recurrence of certain themes in the black community, the need for uplift and self-reliance, the debate between liberals and conservatives about the right approach to racism, and the virulent reaction in some quarters to any signs of racial progress. . . . Coates’s always sharp commentary is particularly insightful as each day brings a new upset to the cultural and political landscape laid during the term of the nation’s first black president. . . . Coates is a crucial voice in the public discussion of race and equality, and readers will be eager for his take on where we stand now and why.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Though the essays are about a particular period, Coates’s themes reflect broader social and political phenomena. It’s this timeless timeliness—reminiscent of the work of George Orwell and James Baldwin—that makes Coates worth reading again and again.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)11/15/2017
In his second book, Coates (correspondent for the Atlantic; author of Between the World and Me [a 2016 LJ Best Book]) gathers eight formerly published essays, one for each year of Barack Obama's presidency, together with framing commentary and reflection. The author's growing prominence as a writer and public intellectual coincided with (and, Coates argues, was made possible by) the Obama era. Thus, this volume documents both the personal growth of Coates as a thinker and also our national struggle to reckon with the politics of race and racism. Readers of the author's work will find familiar friends in this collection: essays on Bill Cosby, Michelle Obama, the Civil War, Malcolm X, Barack Obama, reparations, the carceral state, and Donald Trump. The contextualizing matter—part autobiography, part political commentary—pulls back between each piece to consider how the author's thinking has evolved since. Admirers of Coates will appreciate this fresh perspective on his process; new readers will find much to reflect on. As always, Coates's narratives are densely woven conversations with the work of historians and other chroniclers of black experience in the United States. VERDICT A timely collection that challenges us to take an honest accounting of our collective past.—Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Massachusetts Historical Soc.