Ta-Nehisi Coates: TOP TEN BOOKS


The Baltimore-born author of The Beautiful Struggle, and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates takes much of his personal credo from Barack Obama, who said during his 2004 presidential run, “I’m rooted in the black community, but I’m not limited by it.” His 2014 Atlantic article, “The Case for Reparations,” arguably made the question of compensation for those violated by the slave trade a mainstream issue. Coates won the 2015 National Book Award for Between the World and Me, which took its title from a poem by Richard Wright, in which the narrator imagines a scene of a lynching. Written as a letter to his teenage son, the book elucidates what it means to live in a black body in a deeply racist society, and won Coates admiring comparisons to James Baldwin. Last year Coates published his debut novel, The Water Dancer, set in the time of slavery.

Below are Ta-Nehisi Coates’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


The Great Gatsby

F.Scott Fitzgerald
I'm a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it.
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Tony Judt
A book that deeply informs my journalist sense. Writers-particularly American writers-constantly feel the pull of soulutionism, the desire to assure their readers that there is a way out, even when there isn't. Judt refused this. History, he understood, does not exist to comfort us.
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The Waterworks

E.L. Doctorow
What a strange and beautiful book. The story of a postbellum American newspaper editor investigating the undead. Doctorow's most underrated work.
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Battlecry of Freedom

James McPherson
The definitive history of the Civil War. One of the greatest works of history I've ever read and arguably the best one volume history in existence. Having said that…
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The Thirty Years War

God, I love this book. It's the history of an utterly depressing war with no real nobility, that ultimately descends into cannibalism. Right up my alley.
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Sweet Soul Music

Peter Gurulnick
History of soul music, told in profiles. I read this is as young man really trying to understand what journalism and history meant. Spent a lot of time meditating on Sam and Dave after this one.
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Neon Vernacular

Yusef Komanyakaa
Probably my favorite living poet. No on else taught me more about how important it was to think about how words make people feel. It's enough for people to know something is true. They have to feel it's true.
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The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton
Again, I like this book for its willingness to embrace the tragic. No happy endings. The book is a defense of elitism, something I guess I oppose. But I found it credible, here.
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The Country Between Us

Carolyn Forché
Another book of poetry that taught me what the form was. Forché has a beautiful sense of rhythm. I teach her famous poem "The Colonel" in essay and nonfiction classes. It's all about what you don't say.
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The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin
Basically the fines essay I've ever read. It's technically two essays but it feels like one. Baldwin refused to hold anyone's hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.
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