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Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Making of a Public Intellectual
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When Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first book, “The Beautiful Struggle,” was published in 2008, it landed with barely a ripple. At the time, Mr. Coates was a struggling writer. He had lost three jobs, and he and his family relied on unemployment checks, his wife’s income and occasional support from his father to stay afloat. By the time the book came out in paperback, his fortune had shifted slightly; he’d become a regular contributor to The Atlantic magazine, writing a blog that attracted a moderate but engaged audience.

“I went and did a few events. I did one in Brooklyn and I did one in San Francisco, and maybe 30 people showed up. And I thought, ‘This is what I want. This is it,’” he said in a conversation over a recent lunch.

Suffice it to say that Mr. Coates’s second book, “Between the World and Me,” published in 2015, did not suffer the same lack of readership. An early galley was sent to Toni Morrison, who strongly endorsed the book, calling it “required reading” and likening Mr. Coates to James Baldwin. That year, Mr. Coates was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award in nonfiction. His appearances filled auditoriums and the book was adopted on college syllabuses. It has sold 1.5 million copies internationally and has been translated into 19 languages, catapulting him to prominence.

At the age of 41 (he turns 42 on Saturday), Mr. Coates has become one of the most influential black intellectuals of his generation, joining predecessors including Ms. Morrison, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Dr. Cornel West. “He’s a rock star,” said Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, professor emeritus of American history at Princeton University, adding that Mr. Coates is asking questions that even “other historians have not been asking.”

His new book, “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” traces this ascent. In it, he collects articles he wrote for The Atlantic during Barack Obama’s presidency, interspersing them with explanatory, autobiographical essays. The book goes on sale Tuesday, Oct. 3, and already, his book-tour stop at Brooklyn’s Kings Theater has sold out — a far cry from the intimate crowds of his early career.

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  1. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    A “rock star” intellectual eh? “Intellectuals” are not necessarily professional historians i.e. Chomsky, Hitchens and a few others, nor to my knowledge is Coates. “Intellectuals” do not need to submit to the discipline required of a professional historian i.e. peer review etc,, so I would be interested in knowing what these “questions” are that Coates is asking that other historians (according to this Dr. Painter) “have not been asking.”

  2. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Is anyone else mildly amused at the name translating to “Conception of a Lion”?

    It’s a nice name and perfectly normal in that tradition but still funny in English.

  3. TheJester says:

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is an intellectual? Please explain what is meant by the term. I’m aware of the Latin root, intellēctuālis, which he is not. The best evidence of this is that he writes for The Atlantic. He has also been a meme for Barack Obama and his public journey of self-discovery in which he discovers he hates white men and Western Civilization … but one would have to have recourse to a dateline to know who came first.

    So, let me entertain the opposite. I know, like Obama, he complains a lot. Perhaps Ta-Nehisi Coates might be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, roughly translated as “atoning for educability through delicate beauty”. Nonsense, right? No way … but maybe since this has also has come to mean “having something to say when you have nothing to say”.

    • Replies: @Jason Liu
  4. Seneca44 says:

    Mr Coates oeuvre has limited appeal. Quantum sufficit.

  5. iffen says:

    Does anybody, and I do mean anybody, in the world believe that Coates has read 1,000 books on the Civil War?

    • Replies: @Ron Unz
  6. ic1000 says:

    Earlier this month, I put the second-to-last paragraph of Between the World and Me into a comment to a Steve Sailer post. Coates doesn’t hide his feelings: if you are a fellow-citizen and think you are white and don’t fawn over him, he finds you repulsive. And also evil.

    Mr. Coates may be equally repelled by the goodwhite Americans who fawn, and by foreign whites. He didn’t say.

  7. In 1916 a clearly agitated Henry Ford famously proclaimed that “history is more or less bunk.”

    What Henry Ford was implying is that professional historians are not to be trusted to know or write the truth about history.

    Garnering truth about history requires that a forensic science investigation be first conducted, and practically no published professional historian has any training or practice in forensic science.

    You can guess that Ta-Nehisi-Coates has no forensic science training too, and it is obvious in all his inane scribbling.

    NYT re-publishes Ta-Nehisi-Coates nonsense because they support the same politics as TNC – victim cult entitlements.

  8. Ron Unz says:

    Does anybody, and I do mean anybody, in the world believe that Coates has read 1,000 books on the Civil War?

    Books? Or comic books?

    • Agree: Dan Hayes
  9. Jason Liu says:

    in a socially just country he would be washing dishes

  10. Jason Liu says:

    “Intellectual” is what white liberals call shallow purveyor of viewpoints that uphold the status quo while pretending to be trendy

    I believe the older term was “guru”

  11. Yan Shen says:

    One of the best comments I’ve heard related to Ta Nehisi Coates.

    Suppose you were a white person with a deep-seated dislike for black people, and you were intent on training your son to feel the same way. Suppose that, day after day, week after week, you instructed him to study the details of every instance of black-on-white crime. Say you advised your son to extrapolate from these incidents the notion that black people are generally dangerous, and that your zeal to present him with disturbing anecdotes along these lines never waned.
    You would be wrong, in just about every possible way: statistically, sociologically, morally. You would be doing your son a gross and damaging disservice. For yourself you would invite, and earn, broad contempt. If your opinions became publicly known, you might well find yourself unwelcome in polite company and your job at risk. Indeed, the National Review contributor John Derbyshire was fired for expressing such sentiments in a blog post three years ago.

    And yet for harboring roughly the same level of suspicion, fear, mistrust, distaste, and unease about whites as Derbyshire does about blacks, the essayist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has found himself crowned America’s leading civic thinker.

    • Replies: @MEH 0910
  12. Being totally in line with the “Artistic” concept of painting soup cans or other such deeply “creative” BS, this moron has been elevated to genius level by the legions of leftist nut-cases who, when in the sixties all criteria for quality in art, literature, etc, were removed under the guise of “Equality” and actual obvious quality became viewed as “racist” , then removed all common-sense parameters, and replaced them with unadulterated lunacy: and here we are: Dylan gets a Nobel prize, and this charlatan is a star.

    Authenticjazzman “Mensa” qualified since 1973, airborne trained US army vet, and pro Jazz artist.

  13. Svigor says:

    In 1916 a clearly agitated Henry Ford famously proclaimed that “history is more or less bunk.”

    What Henry Ford was implying is that professional historians are not to be trusted to know or write the truth about history.

    The concept of professional historian is less than useful. It doesn’t take credentials to be a historian. Just read history. History is not some obscure subject of specialized interest that may only be broached by the credentialed. It’s the story of humanity. It’s of interest to everyone, and everyone who does much thinking at least dabbles in history.

    If we simply must create a credential hurdle, I say it’s literacy.

    “Court historian” is a much more useful term. That’s a real thing.

    • Replies: @Joe Franklin
  14. Svigor says:

    Kato: the difference being that Derb always has a point, and Tennessee Coates never does.

  15. Svigor says:

    “Imagine if you said Chinese people practiced foot-binding” yeah you’d be right. “Now imagine you said it about Europeans” yeah you’d be wrong.

  16. JackOH says:

    I’m a bit of a contrarian, I guess. Coates was on Meet the Press this morning, and I thought to myself: “Give the guy a fair shake.” I was in the kitchen, his interview with Chuck Todd had already started, when I heard language from Coates about “Whites and the template of power”, or words roughly to that effect. I’m sort of genetically programmed to listen to the other guy’s story. Sorry, but Coates just didn’t work for me. Just another set-up for interminable rent-seeking, I thought. I went upstairs to wash up.

  17. MEH 0910 says:
    @Yan Shen

    John Derbyshire has commented on that comment: Derb: The White Ta-Nehisi Coates!

  18. @Svigor

    No such thing as a court historian in the US.

    Professional historians write and approve the history books viewed by kiddies in American public schools and universities.

    Professional historians have real influence in the US versus court historians.

    Practically no professional historians in the US have any training in forensic science, making their opinions largely unreliable and worthless.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates claims to be a professional historian or at least an academic.

    TNC also has zero training in forensic science, and therefore nothing TNC writes claiming to be based on history can be taken as reliable or truthful.

    The establishment patronizes TNC because he supports their diversity scheme supremacy politics, not because he is a truth teller.

  19. eah says:

    Enough about this dumbass.

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