We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

A sweeping collection of new and selected essays on the Obama era by the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me"We were eight years in power" was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic...

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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy Reviews

  • Andre

    Superb. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the go-to guy on writing about race from the perspective of African-Americans. Happily, this is a role he doesn't shirk from, in fact he eagerly embraces his status. "I had become The Atlantic’s “Black Writer”—a phrase that described both my identity and my interests. There was always a sense that African American journalists should avoid being tagged as “black” lest they be “boxed in” and unable to pursue more “universal” topics such as the economy and global

    Superb. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the go-to guy on writing about race from the perspective of African-Americans. Happily, this is a role he doesn't shirk from, in fact he eagerly embraces his status. "I had become The Atlantic’s “Black Writer”—a phrase that described both my identity and my interests. There was always a sense that African American journalists should avoid being tagged as “black” lest they be “boxed in” and unable to pursue more “universal” topics such as the economy and global policy. But the more I wrote, the more I saw I wasn’t boxed in as much as those who dismissed my chosen beat were boxed out."

    That perspective, I think is important and makes him an effective writer, you have to be purposeful in your writing to have the kind of impact he has had in these last eight years. So the book is a collection of eight essays pulled from his writing at the Atlantic magazine, but with each essay, we get a companion piece that gives us an idea what Mr. Coates was thinking at the time and where he was, not only mentally but physically in his personal life. "The title comes from congressman Thomas Miller. In 1895, as his state moved from the egalitarian innovations of Reconstruction to an oppressive “Redemption,” Miller appealed to the state’s constitutional convention: We Were Eight Years in Power and then he lists the great things that were accomplished over the past eight years hoping to stave off the dismantling of reconstruction. Ta-Nehisi smartly has his finger on the pulse of race relations in this country and is clear and unambiguous in his writing and these essays are a powerful testament to his talent. It is interesting to read his commentary on his own work as he looks back in the companion portions.

    The strongest essay is probably also the one that helped put his name on the proverbial map, The Case For Reparations.The numbers, the situations, the wrongs, the overall plunder of Black life eloquently described in this essay leaves little room for questions other than how and when will reparations be executed. He certainly makes the case for reparations crystal clear to the point of how can one object to the argument, but with emotional and financial rebuffs. "With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating." Is this not indisputable?

    This is a book that needs to be read and studied. Ta-Nehisi is fully engaged and is brave, bold and brilliant in these pages and is not hesitant to call out white supremacy, respectability politics among Blacks, and even then President Obama in print and in personal meetings. All of this feels timely given the current state of affairs. I'm glad he Ta-Nehisi has risen to international prominence, his voice is needed and we're lucky to be able to read such an honest, intelligent, committed young man. Do yourself a favor and mark October 3, 2017 on your calendar. A big thank you to OneWorld and Netgalley for providing an advanced ebook in exchange for an honest review.

  • Ken Moten

    "

    " - Psalm 137:1-3

    "

    "

    " - Psalm 137:1-3

    "

    "

    "

    "

    This year is apart of the

    ...ironically.

    That last quote, I hope by the end of this review you have full context for it. When I first got this book, I thought this would be a "best-of" with minor introductions. What this turned-out to be is a story of two men

    &

    ; the main story is about the former and his relationship to the story of the latter. The interplay that Coates uses between himself and Obama are some of the most creative story-telling of biographies in modern times. The essays that preceded his journal/blog articles are the main attractions: these are the autobiographical sections of the book that tie all the journal pieces together. You can read all the original journal articles on The Atlantic's website, so a book collection would have to be a little more special.

    Around this time (October) in 2008, I was in Richmond, Virginia in my first year of college and also as a volunteer for the city's chapter of the Obama campaign. Up to that point, the idea of a black president had been as imaginable as Santa Claus being president. But by that time, it seems like it was happening, I was watching myth become real and wanted in on some of it. The night he won, my school and every other school in the capital of the former Confederacy marched across the city in jubilation. Though it seems like a distant-memory, it was as real a moment as any in my, or my former peers, lifetime.

    Coates was struggling to simply feed his family, he had submitted an article to The Atlantic on Bill Cosby that he now considers a failure and would have to wait until his second assignment on Michelle Obama before any economic stability would assert itself. During this time he was hired to be a blogger for The Atlantic and hosted

    before his success led to it being closed. This era of Coates is still optimistic in the Obama world. It seemed that his Black Nationalist upbringing is being proven false before his eyes, but the opposition to Obama is about to crush this idealism. He was also

    &

    and this would be the beginning of his modern formation. TNC credits

    with opening his eyes. He would gain his trademark pessimism after reading more histories like

    and

    .

    When we come to the 5th year it becomes less me reading about his career and more remembering it. I first heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates when his article

    started making the rounds. I thought it was decent, but I was still engulfed in the inner-turmoils of my life and was not able to give him the attention it deserved. This article marks him in his current phase. Much of the optimism and idealism from the first-term has been crushed by things like the arrest of

    , the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the firing of Shirley Sherrod. "

    "

    "

    " - YAH. by Kendrick Lamar

    Coates' chapter of his sixth year is on his masterpiece:

    . If there is one work by him that I can read over-and-over it is this one. The article is about the effects of the government-sanctioned housing discrimination and dispossession of African-Americans over the course of the 20th century. When talking about this essay, Coates notes that

    . I have already talked about this article in

    , but enough cannnot be said about it. I thought I knew just how systematic the discrimination was, but this article defied my wildest nightmares. As Mr. Clyde Ross said, "there was no law." I would argue there still ain't, when the chips are down.

    After that article, Coates was a semi-household name. I was definitely paying attention to him then, and he was given a contract for some books, including one on the Civil War that ended up writing as a letter to his son after Ferguson. His notes on the seventh year is mostly about that, with a shorter introduction on his article

    . Coates had already did blog-posts on the Moyniham Report and mass incarceration (which included one of the last book reads with The Horde-his legendary comment section-of

    . "the Horde" would officially be disbanded in the wake of

    's success), but now he was taking all the research and combining it with new info coming out. This story would see him consolidate his intellectual fame, despite being overshadowed by the success of

    . This also landed him the gig of his career.

    "

    " - Distant Lover by Marvin Gaye

    Ta-Nehisi Coates ranks that the top two journal articles of his career are

    & his interview with President Obama,

    . His story of his relationship with the White House in a symbolic way is what this book is about he said that the interest in his work only appeared when Obama's presidency began, but his personal relationship to the White House was not so simple. As he explained in his essay preceding his article

    , he was not warmly received by the Obama campaign when he first started following them. It got a little better, than worse once the White House got wind of the blog post and Atlantic Essays Coates wrote criticizing Obama's respectability politics and other aspects of his policy. Coates particularly hated Obama's habit of always talking-down to black audiences every chance he got. Of course, he took the Obama to task in a major way for the firing of Shirley Sherrod based on false evidence from Andrew Breirbart. When Obama first invited Coates to the White House, Coates was overwhelmed by the occasion felt he had been taken-advantaged of. His return visit ended in a crazed shouting match with the President and he did not know if he was ever coming back until he got the call from the White House for the interview.

    I recommend going to The Atlantic's website to check out the full series of interviews that got edited to one that was published in the magazine and the book. they take place up to and after D-day. We learn a lot about Obama and Coates in this interview. President Obama, takes stock of his 8 years and probably gives as genuine an assessment as possible. Obama's scholar-side is able to go toe-to-toe with Coates. His optimism is amazing for how genuine it it, despite all he's been through over the last 8 years. Though Coates is by now as cynical as Obama is optimistic, they both knew one thing, America would not elect a crazed white supremacist president.

    The grand thesis of this book to me is Coates' daring to defy the order of the world around him. The existence of Barack Obama gave him the closes thing to a religious experience of faith and he simply wants to recapture it, despite the history of the world being against it. One thing that grabbed me is Coates explaining just the marvel of Barack Obama in Black history: "

    " This shows how President Obama defies ethno-categorization, even when embracing it. While putting the interview together for the magazine, Coates only listened to Marvin Gaye's Distant Lover.

    "

    " - LUST. by Kendrick Lamar

    The prologue/introduction of this book dealt with the why? of a President Trump. The name of this book is taken from a passage from

    , recounting the protest of Thomas E. Miller, a black South Carolina state senator who was present when white supremacist rewrote the state's constitution to disenfranchise the African-American population and inaugurate, officially, the reign of terror that would grip the state , and the rest of the American South, for a century (or more).

    It was true then and has remained true for South Carolina and the United States as a whole. The epilogue of this book,

    , is the why? & how? to Donald Trump. Nothing really revolutionary to anyone paying attention or who has any knowledge of the

    -era. While many people wanted to see the gains of the last 8 years, one group regardless of location, earnings, gender or class wanted to see a Donald Trump presidency according to the polling and they all identify as white. Trump built and successfully executed a campaign of white supremacy. It brings us up to the current point, an egotistical white supremacist is president of the United States because the idea of being white for a plurality of Americans sounds better than the idea being sane or safe. "

    "

    For myself, I do not regret the idea of a black president. Like Mr. Coates, I saw something that for the first 17 years of my life was thought to be impossible, but it had still happened and it was done well. He defied the whole of America's founding myth and we were better-off for it. I don't personally have the same weariness as Coates. While I grant that it is not certain that history is not guaranteed to end well, it is not guaranteed to end poorly: history is history--nothing else. I'll let Ta-Nehisi Coates have the last word on Obama and Trump.

    "

  • Cheri

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !!

    -- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

    In 1895, South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the State’s constitutional convention with these words -

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !!

    -- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

    In 1895, South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the State’s constitutional convention with these words -

    The title of this book, this collection of Coates’ essays, comes from this quote.

    On 4 November 2008, over one hundred years later, Barack Obama was declared the President-elect.

    President-elect Barack Obama – 4 November 2008

    As in his 2015 “Between the World and Me,” this is a book about race in America. Eight articles written during the eight years of America’s first black presidency, one for each year.

    Along with an essay for each year, there are accompanying notes on his life, his thoughts, his frustrations on the then current events around the topic of race, and his thoughts on Barack Obama, the man, before he was President Obama, to his slow recognition that this man might actually become our president, and then through the years of his presidency. The relationship between Obama’s eight years as president followed by the election of Donald Trump.

    And now, slightly more than eight years have passed since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the first black president of this country. I would have thought that we, as a country, had become more accepting, that those who had feared Obama would be able to look back at the good that had taken place.

    In the past 7 months plus, as I write this, since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President, I am astonished at how emotionally charged our atmosphere has become, how much has visibly changed, how much more open and visible hatred has become. How timely this book is.

    “There ain't no room

    For the hopeless sinner

    Who would hurt all mankind

    Just to save his own”

    -- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

    A myriad of emotions flowed through me while reading this, sadness to anger, shame, fear, pride, hope. At times this lay heavy on my soul, but more often I found myself re-reading portions to further embrace and internalize his words. Faith, that intangible belief in something bigger and better than us, that’s what Coates words made me reflect upon.

    -- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

    Recommended

    Pub Date: 03 Oct 2017

    Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group – Random House

  • Cindy

    I cannot stress enough how essential this book is to the world and most importantly to America. This book comes at the most relevant time in America's history and should be read by every American. I am not even American and this book spoke to me in ways I could not imagine. Ta-Nehisi Coates is as Ghostface puts it, "an arsonist who burns with his pen".

    The writing in t

    I cannot stress enough how essential this book is to the world and most importantly to America. This book comes at the most relevant time in America's history and should be read by every American. I am not even American and this book spoke to me in ways I could not imagine. Ta-Nehisi Coates is as Ghostface puts it, "an arsonist who burns with his pen".

    The writing in this book is impeccable, it is thoroughly researched and timely. Coates speaks on an American Tragedy- mainly on race issues but everything about this book is eloquently, rich and beautifully put together.

    Having read and loved

    I knew this book would live up to the hype. Not only that, it is clear that Coates is the voice of this generation, especially on matters concerning race. He is the James Baldwin of our generation and his writings should not be ignored.

    I woke up shocked to hear and I am somewhat still in disbelief that Trump is the President of the USA. I remain baffled every single time his is referred to as President, it is like a nightmare that wont end and I cant help but think, "how did this happen?!!!!"... As Coates put its:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend that everyone goes out and get a copy. This is essential must read material.

    Thanks Netgally for the ARC!

  • Bam

    An excellent collection of essays written by Coates during the eight years of Barack Obama's administration. Where is the 'American tragedy' you may ask? In what follows those eight years. In the shattering of 'the dream of a post-racial America.'

    "...writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one's roots or expertise or even one's own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience."

    In these ess

    An excellent collection of essays written by Coates during the eight years of Barack Obama's administration. Where is the 'American tragedy' you may ask? In what follows those eight years. In the shattering of 'the dream of a post-racial America.'

    "...writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one's roots or expertise or even one's own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience."

    In these essays, Coates discusses the hypocrisy behind the founding ideas of America, his studies of the American Civil War, the case for reparations, the state of the black family in the age of mass incarceration, and the rise of white supremacy once again after the election of Donald Trump. Eye-opening. Mind-expanding.

    Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this important work.

  • Clif Hostetler

    This book is a collection of eight essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates previously published in The Atlantic, one from each year of the Obama administration. Each essay is accompanied with an opening commentary that describes the circumstances, political environment and state of mind in which the essay was written including the author’s personal and professional situation at the time.

    In a real sense this book is a recapitulation of some political issues taken from the past eight years and examined from a

    This book is a collection of eight essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates previously published in The Atlantic, one from each year of the Obama administration. Each essay is accompanied with an opening commentary that describes the circumstances, political environment and state of mind in which the essay was written including the author’s personal and professional situation at the time.

    In a real sense this book is a recapitulation of some political issues taken from the past eight years and examined from an African American perspective. For regular readers of The Atlantic this may be previously read material, however the added commentary will add fresh perspective for them as well. But for the rest of us these essays provide a thorough elaboration of some issues that perhaps haven’t been previously considered.

    For example, the issue of reparations explored in the “Sixth Year” is a most convincing description of the “

    ”. The clincher for me is the fact the African Americans were restricted from history’s largest wealth building program for the American middle class, the post war FHA and GI home loan programs. This is a fact from history of which I was unaware until the recent publishing of the book

    These restrictions continued until 1968 which in my mind is just yesterday. Consequently, the average wealth of white household is six times wealthier than for blacks, a fact that is a consequence of many years of policies— partly post-war and partly historical remnants of Jim Crow and slavery.

    Another memorable essay is “

    ” from the "Eighth Year" that provides a thorough recollection and analysis of the Obama years. The title of Part Two of this essay provides what impresses me as a fit summary of Obama as president, "He Walked on Ice but Never Fell." Some of us tend to forget how vicious his critics were—and still are. It's an example of the old truism, a Negro needs to be twice as good to succeed. That certainly can't be said about the subsequent administration (i.e. not twice as good). Reading this essay is a reminder of the days when Americans weren't daily embarrassed by some stupid tweet from

    . I miss those days.

    Then there's the essay,

    which revisits the 1965 report written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan titled, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." This report has been praised and criticized by strange combinations of various groups. In this essay Ta-Nehisi Coates generally defends the content and intent of the report and accuses most critics of latching on to limited portions and ignoring the overall message and context. In many ways this essay reinforces the message contained in Michelle Alexander's book,

    . The point made is that the rate of prison incarceration in the United States is absurdly high and is the result of many decades during which politicians were falling over each other trying to prove themselves to be the toughest on crime. The public went along with the trend because of latent racism.

    The book includes an Epilogue that functions as an unnamed ninth year in which the author savages Trump's white-supremacist ideology. It is taken from an essay titled, "

    ."

    I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book from the publisher through Goodreads' giveaway program.

  • Erin

    13h 39m

    I have so much to say, but find it difficult to articulate all my thoughts and feelings. Although I think I prefer my "Between the World and Me" audio because it is narrated by the author, this is definitely a great audio that I would recommend. As many of my fellow reviewers have already stated, this is a collection of eight essays written by Coates during the Obama presidency. I only discovered the author in 2017 and I truly enjoy his perspecti

    13h 39m

    I have so much to say, but find it difficult to articulate all my thoughts and feelings. Although I think I prefer my "Between the World and Me" audio because it is narrated by the author, this is definitely a great audio that I would recommend. As many of my fellow reviewers have already stated, this is a collection of eight essays written by Coates during the Obama presidency. I only discovered the author in 2017 and I truly enjoy his perspective. If I had to pick a favorite portion, I truly felt most affected by his essay on Barak Obama and Malcolm X(The Legacy of Malcolm X). I listened to it twice and then went online and read the essay. Perhaps it was most affecting because I just recall that most of the coverage of Obama's election caused most Canadian media to allude to Martin Luther King Jr and his "I have a dream " speech which I now realize was far from really giving us any sort of understanding about how significant this moment really was. No offence to Canadian newsagents, but "go deep." Something which all the essays in their turn do- present readers with a deeper understanding. I have tried to discuss with my friends , but I think I am a poor translator. Simply put, it is worth your attention.

  • Darwin8u

    - Ta-Nehisi Coates, from his notes to the fourth year, We Were Eight Years in Power

    The framework is basic. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes one essay he wrote from the Atlantic during each of the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency*. That's it. Well, actually, if that was it you could just Google his Atlantic essays (see list below) and not have to bother with the book. The

    - Ta-Nehisi Coates, from his notes to the fourth year, We Were Eight Years in Power

    The framework is basic. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes one essay he wrote from the Atlantic during each of the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency*. That's it. Well, actually, if that was it you could just Google his Atlantic essays (see list below) and not have to bother with the book. The essays were great (many REALLY, REALLY great), but since I've read them much they weren't the real gift of this novel. The GIFT are the introductions. The value add that Coates writes between. The space between the essays. His context and honesty about where he was in his writing, his thinking, makes the evolution of the essays feel more coherent. This book become a development of a writer. I really enjoyed it.

    I just can't give it 5-stars because it doesn't quite measure up to his previous work. It isn't

    . It is more inline with his other book

    . His essays are pretty amazing (just not, for me, quite 5-stars fantastic) and introduction essays are pretty great too. So, I don't know 4-stars? I realize I would have been suckered by just the eight essays alone, but despite their near-genius still feel constrained a bit (not quite as constrained as

    ) to give the book something just below five stars. The book really is MORE than just the eight republished essays, so 4-stars I guess. Thanks BHodges. Even though you didn't change my rating, your perspective DID change my thinking, a bit and I've changed/patched my review (a bit).

    Here are the eight original essays. I warn you, however, that you are only cheating yourself if you skip the book. Those binding essays, those value add spaces, the introduction and the epilogue are all worth your time, and yes, your money. If you have never read Coates, pick an essay. Read it. If he unmakes you a bit. Good. Read more.

    Year 1 -

    - May 2008

    Year 2 -

    - Jan/Feb 2009

    Year 3 -

    - Feb 2012

    Year 4 -

    - May 2011

    Year 5 -

    - Sep 2012

    Year 6 -

    - June 2014

    Year 7 -

    - Oct 2015

    Year 8 -

    - Jan 2017

    * His Civil War essay seems to ignore this rule/format, but meh.

  • Bill  Kerwin

    In

    , Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of

    (2015), has given us not only another essential work of African American literature but also a classic example of American prose.

    Although it lacks the concentrated power and beauty of

    , there is a good reason for this, for it is a collection of eight essays written for

    over a period of eight years, the years of the Obama presidency. In the prefatory “notes” to each

    In

    , Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of

    (2015), has given us not only another essential work of African American literature but also a classic example of American prose.

    Although it lacks the concentrated power and beauty of

    , there is a good reason for this, for it is a collection of eight essays written for

    over a period of eight years, the years of the Obama presidency. In the prefatory “notes” to each essay (and year), in which the author provides both the context of each composition and its role in his to his growth as a writer, Coates admits that, for the first four of these years, He was still learning his craft. Yet even these four essays (shorter than the rest, they comprise the first third of the volume) reveal Coates to be a writer of great promise and penetrating intellect, and the remaining five—including the epilogue—are texts which I hope will be studied in high schools and universities for years to come.

    Of the first four essays, I particularly recommend “This is How We Lost to the White Man,” about Bill Cosby’s black activism, and “American Girl,” about Michelle Obama as a child of the middle-class Southside Chicago neighborhoods. In the Cosby essay, although Coates does not agree with Cosby’s “pants on the ground” harangues targeted at black youth, he makes it clear that Cosby is an extension of the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” tradition of black activism, stretching from Booker T. Washington through Marcus Garvey to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. In “American Girl,” Coates argues that Mrs. Obama was ideally suited to be the first black first lady because she is the product of a large stable, middle class black enclave (one of the few in the US), and because this background allows her to exude a confidence in herself and her worth which registers (even to white people) as distinctly American.

    It is the last essays of the book, however, dealing primarily with the present day consequences of slavery (“The Case For Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”) and with the presidency of Obama (“The Fear of a Black President” and “My President was Black”) which form the heart of the book. “Reparations” and “The Black Family” are primarily expository, demonstrating how slavery continues to wound the black citizen in the 21st century, plundering him of what little wealth he acquires through red-lining, real estate scams and municipal fines, and marginalizing him through a racially charged definition of family (courtesy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan), all of which makes mass incarceration inevitable, which in turn creates the basis of a new Jim Crow and opens up further opportunities for plunder. The other two essays, although their content is primarily factual, are highly personal too. They are of course about Barack Obama, about how fear of a black president may have caused him to be too cautious and how racism continually obstructed his presidency's final years, but they are also about Coates himself. Coates, an atheist and pessimist, profoundly doubts the president’s message of hope and change, and yet can’t help but be profoundly moved, not only by the undeniable fact of a black president, but by the character and particular genius of Barack Obama the man.

    I must single out for special mention, though, the “epilogue,” an essay entitled “The First White President," in which Coates makes the argument that Trump is the “first white president” because he is “the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president” :

  • Roxane

    Review forthcoming. Thoughtful, sobering essay collection with moments of memoir. Some exceptional moments, some repetitive ideas, a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender. Well worth a read.

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