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Publisher's Summary

Ta-Nehisi Coates' debut is an infectious, reflective memoir - a lyrical saga of surviving the crack-stricken streets of Baltimore in the '80s. Son of Vietnam vet and black awareness advocate Paul Coates - a poor man who set out to publish lost classics of black history - Ta-Nehisi drifts toward salvation at Howard University, while his ominous brother Big Bill finds his own rhythm hustling.
©2008 Ta-Nehisi Coates (P)2008 Recorded Books,LLC

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Stacey
  • AUSTIN, TX, United States
  • 01-26-15

Interesting glimpse into a life so unlike my own

Coates memoir of his boyhood-to-manhood years was an interesting read. The language and tone is quite different from his current writing at the Atlantic; fortunately, those unfamiliar with the slang in the book can get help from the internet (I had to Google phrases like "giving dap"). I am so unfamiliar with the world of his youth - I read this knowing nothing of black boys growing up in the city during the crack era. Coates lyrically describes his life and the ways it typified and departed from the life of his peers. It was a very worthwhile read and well-performed by the reader.

43 of 44 people found this review helpful

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The coming of age of a rising public intellectual

What made the experience of listening to The Beautiful Struggle the most enjoyable?

Ta-Nehisi Coates blogs for the Atlantic Monthly. I'd been reading his blog for quite awhile when it occured to me that this book might be available on audible. It's an excellent introduction to Ta-Nehisi's life and world-view, particularly the role played by his father, Paul Coates, of Black Classic Press. Read his blog--he's a rising public intellectual and just very wise on many fronts. Additionally, JD Jackson captures the voice I hear when I read Ta-Nehisi's blog, and taught me to correctly pronounce his name (Ta-neh-HA-si), which I'd been mispronouncing for a long time.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • jill
  • oakland, CA, United States
  • 07-13-15

Excellent

Love love love this story!!! So elegantly expressed that I often used my 39 second rewind option and jotted down quotes. I learn so much about the experience of young black kids growing up in Baltimore in the 80's.

25 of 28 people found this review helpful

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He's a good writer, very descriptive.

He sometimes lays it on a little thick but he gives the reader a great picture of the characters.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A Beautiful...

This book reads like a poem. It was descriptive enough that I could see through his eyes and recall so much of it. I grew up in DC during these times and you would only know to live it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Janet M.
  • Baltimore, MD United States
  • 08-03-16

Wow!

This is one of the most engaging books I have ever read. Coates brings you into his world without pandering to you. I could not stop listening to it and was never disappointed.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great

A great father. A great son. A great book. Read it. Few masterpieces capture the conflict between father and son while celebrating their collective successes as well..

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Growing up

What did you love best about The Beautiful Struggle?

It brought back thoughts of my youth. Nothing in common with Mr. Coates, yes everything in common. Love of family. Relationship with father, etc

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Beautiful Struggle?

The decision to become serious about life and college

What does J. D. Jackson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He does a good job, but I think the message might be better in the book. Hard to compare when I have only heard the story

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

I think it points out the importance of the father in our culture I see this lost quite often and usually with not the best results

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 02-24-16

I would always have the dagger at my throat.

"But all of us need myths. And here out West, where we all had lost religion, and had taken to barbarian law, what would deb our magic? What would be sacred words?"
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle

Beautiful. Haunting. Rythmic. Pulsing with life, love, and the development of consciousness. This is a memoir of a peer. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one year younger than me. We grew up watching the same things through different lenses. Watching the same play from vastly different seats. His was a lens of black America in West Baltimore. I was born a military brat, the son of a veterinarian and officer. My father was born to parents who hadn't graduated from high school, but through grit and determination, and the help of the military, put himself through college and UC Davis veterinary school. I was born into the privilege carved out of my father's grit.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#1): "I was a black boy at the height of the crack era, which meant that my instructors pitched education as the border between those who would prosper in America, and those who would be fed to the great hydra of prison, teenage pregnancy and murder."
— "School as Wonder, or Way Out," New York Times Magazine

But even with my father's boot-strap story, it is hard to look at my life as anything other than a collection of privilege. There were times when I was teased, perhaps, because of my ears. There were parents who were wary of their kids hanging out with a Mormon. But all of those slights and scars of youth seem insignificant and trivial compared to Coates and his peers of black youth (and their nervous mothers) raised in West Baltimore in the 80s. What I took for wind, in my life, was a breeze. What I thought was a mountain, in my path, was only a hill.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#2): ""The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from hosts and myths."
—"Letter To My Son," The Atlantic"

But the fantastic thing about good memoirs and Coates' memoir in particular is that you never feel outside the story. His journey -- despite the distance of space, AND because of the proximity of time, and the universality of fathers and sons -- is infinitely relatable. I understand his father, because I know my own father. I understand his insecurities, his vulnerabilities and his fears, his transformation between oblivion and consciousness, because I have walked that path. Not HIS path, but one that is etched through the same years. So, despite the severe differences between a black boy in Baltimore and a white boy in Orem, Coates is able to paint a bridge of words that gives me access. That allows me safe passage to another's core, a place to better understand him, but also better understand myself.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#3): "I would always be a false move away. I would always have the dagger at my throat."
— The Beautiful Struggle

20 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 02-24-16

The Birth of a Powerful Voice

Any additional comments?

On the one hand, we’ve seen this type of memoir before: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Claude Brown, Malcolm X, and others. And, yes, Coates belongs in that company. He talks about what it was like to grow up in a fiercely proud African-American household, and he describes his own coming of age in a society that fears him for his color and his potential.

On the other hand, we need this type of memoir in every generation. Each shares not just a story, but an implicit story behind the story, the growth of our narrator into someone who has “overcome” and developed a new voice for an old situation.

Coates’s voice is new in part because he has absorbed the rhythms and choppiness of hip-hop. If we hear jazz in Baldwin and some of the others, we hear a new, staccato sense here. Coates has a capacity for quick-change, for appreciating detail one moment and then taking off on a philosophical tangent. Or he’ll talk about a personal experience at length and then put it into the context of something larger. His world moves quickly, and he’s in a hurry to tell about it.

This isn’t a hip-hop memoir, though. Instead, it’s the story of the evolution of his capacity for sustained thinking, for connecting the disparate parts of his life. We get the outline of the story pretty quickly: he’s a kid who, under his father’s philosophy and in the wake of his older brother’s street-tough swagger, will find a way to make sense of what feel like conflicting impulses.

The details filling out that story come more slowly because they culminate not in a particularly great accomplishment (although his eventual success as a student is real) but in the capacity to tell the story. The happy ending is the voice itself, the speaker who grabs our attention from the very beginning. Coates is his own success, someone who presents himself here as prepared to give voice to the conflicts of his generation and the one(s) that follows.

And it really is a remarkable voice. I wrote down several of my favorite quotes just to get a feel in my own fingers for his distinctive tone:

Of some of the kids from his childhood, “They took one look around West Baltimore and knew they were the best it had to offer.”

“The [Black] Panthers’ faith exceeded their resolve.”

“Among the Conscious, a man was only worth his most recent read.”

And, after discovering a fresh wave of hip-hop musicians, “Slowly I came to see I was not the only one who was afraid.”

I’ve heard terrific things about Between the World and Me, and it’s high on my list for what to read next. If Coates is exercising the voice that’s born in this book in the ways I understand he is, then it really must be the masterpiece so many say.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful