Notes of a Native Son

Narrated by: Ron Butler
Length: 5 hrs and 3 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (746 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

At last, a new audio edition of the book many have called James Baldwin's most influential work!

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in "The Harlem Ghetto" to a sobering "Journey to Atlanta."

Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright's work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.

Notesis the book that established Baldwin's voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.

©2012 James Baldwin (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Masterful Essayist

Would you listen to Notes of a Native Son again? Why?

I would listen to Notes of a Native Son again for the quality and depth of Baldwin's thoughts and writing. He set a high bar as an essayist on race.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

I found Baldwin's account of his father's funeral and his account of his trip to Switzerland compelling because they showed me different perspectives of race in America and abroad.

Which character – as performed by Ron Butler – was your favorite?

Baldwin himself was my favorite character as performed by Ron Butler. Butler did not mimic the distinctive way Baldwin talked, but told the story straight with depth and nuance.

Any additional comments?

I had read several of the essays before, but it was good to revisit them again in the different form of an audiobook. I highly recommend it.

26 people found this helpful

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Some incredible essays

I recently went to see the documentary I am Not Your Negro. After watching that very good documentary I finally picked up Notes of a Native Son, which I purchased a while ago but I have not read.

The first section are literally and film criticism essays (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Native Son and Carmen Jones.) I have not read or watched any of these, although I knew the basic outline of the story of the first two. This section would likely have been much better if I was familiar with the works being talked about.

Section two and three were some of the best essays I have ever read and I want to go back and read them again.

The three essays in section two are about growing up and living in Harlem, his brother’s musical group’s ill fated trip to the South as entertainment for a political campaign and a eulogy for his father. The eulogy essay is the best essay of the book I think. Eulogies often gloss over the negatives of a person and highlight what will be missed. Baldwin’s father was not going to be missed much, although once he was gone, Baldwin was able to deal with his love for him. Baldwin’s father died on Baldwin’s 19th birthday and Baldwin left soon after to move to Paris.

The last section is what it meant to be Black in Europe and what he understood about Blackness because of the change of setting.

The idea of a ‘color-blind’ ideal society destroyed by Baldwin’s writing. Many White essayists assume their culture as normative and don’t particularly think about race in regard to their normal everyday life. But as an African American man in the 1950s, Baldwin could not think of life without thinking about race. Race impacted every part of his life, whether he was in the US or Europe.

I highly recommend this Notes of a Native Son (and I am Not Your Negro) and look forward to picking up some of Baldwin’s fiction as well. After reading this, I can see why Ta-Nehisi Coates is so often compared to James Baldwin.

I read this right after I finished the group biography of The Inklings (The Fellowship by Philip and Carol Zaleski). While, Baldwin was younger than all of the Inklings, they were all alive and writing at the same time. With the exception of Charles Williams, the rest of the Inklings were highly educated authors that were well educated from a young age in the classics and other languages and literature. Baldwin had a mediocre education that ended with high school. He commented at one point that he had not even been on a college campus until one of his plays was put on at a college and he was invited to the show. That comment says much about the how the long term history of writing and thinking about minority issues is impacted by history and culture.

12 people found this helpful

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Important book

This book so matched my ingrained disposition as a black man. It is necessary reading/listening for adults when they are ready to hear difficult and real reasoning.

5 people found this helpful

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Great text ruined by awful narration

What did you like best about Notes of a Native Son? What did you like least?

James Baldwin is known for his insightful comments on race in America that are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. I really loved the section on "Native Son." It was hard to really feel what he was saying, however, because the reading was so terrible.

How could the performance have been better?

Put some emotion into the reading. This recording sounds like a high schooler being forced to read aloud a selection of some text that he doesn't fully understand.

3 people found this helpful

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Inconsistent

Who am I to judge a master writer like Baldwin? That said, here are my personal views. Some of these essays are superb. When Baldwin talks about his own life and experience the richness of thought is mesmerizing. On the other hand, some of the essay (e.g. Analysis of black media) lack a clear purpose other than to tear down everything in sight. The narration is good although slightly robotic. I'm not sure if that's necessary for narrating essays like these. The reading and recording is clear, which is crucial.

15 people found this helpful

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one of new favorite books

the narrator was perfect and the book was great!!! essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the black experience written by the best American author to ever live

2 people found this helpful

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Relevant Circa 2018

As I listened to this book it felt faintly familiar to the times we live in Now. Life and legacy for the Black person in some ways has still yet to progress. This book sheds perspectives on America and how non Americans view our race. Well done and transformational.

2 people found this helpful

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Perspective shifting

Few books books provide perspectives compelling enough or persuasive enough to alter your own. Multiple portions of this book possess such power

2 people found this helpful

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Inspirational & Relevant to our present struggles

Some of the words written by James Baldwin regarding defining a path forward to address identity struggles & past suffering are still poignant today. The struggle is not over.

2 people found this helpful

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The Letdown

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

Nothing about this narrative is compelling save the subject matter. James Baldwin is a master

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Listening to this is what I imagine plugging my headphone jack into a loaf of WonderBread must sound like. There is no expression, the narrator is completely monotone.

11 people found this helpful