Author, journalist, and recently-named MacArthur Fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates has been on The New York Times bestseller list since the publication of his latest book, Between the World and Me, a work that weighs some of the biggest issues of the American story through the lens of a father’s love for his son. A passionate reader himself, Coates was asked by the Times about the books that have left the biggest mark on him. Here’s part of what he said:
- The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin: “Basically the finest 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.”
- Postwar, by Tony Judt: “A book that deeply informs my journalist sense. Writers — particularly American writers — constantly feel the pull of solutionism, 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.”
- Battle Cry of Freedom, by 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.”
- Sweet Soul Music, by Peter Guralnick: “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.”
- The Age of Innocence, by 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.”
To read the rest of Coates’s list, click here.