We Were Eight Years In Power

We Were Eight Years In Power

An American Tragedy

Book - 2017
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"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. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America's "first white president." But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period -- and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation's old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective -- the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president. We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates's iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including "Fear of a Black President," "The Case for Reparations," and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates's own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.

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CMLibrary_gjd_0 Apr 10, 2018

Mr. Coates always teaches me something when I read his work and this book is no exception! He reminds me again and again that the world I live in is not always the same as the one he's forced to navigate. This is his best work to date; the essays when first written are often quite on point, his r... Read More »


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Chapel_Hill_MarthaW Dec 06, 2018

The best essay in here is the most famous -- "The Case for Reparations", which garnered a lot of attention when it was first published in The Atlantic, which is where I originally read it -- but there's other quality writing in here as well. The thing with Ta-Nehisi Coates is that, even when you don't 100% agree with what he's saying (which I don't -- I find his outlook to be so unrelentingly bleak as to reach the point of being entirely unhelpful at times), he expresses it so well, with such beautiful writing, that you enjoy reading it nonetheless. Well worth a read, even if it's, in my opinion, not up to the level of "Between the World and Me".

r
rlbeekman
Dec 03, 2018

Pieces from the author's 8 years at The Atlantic plus framing and introductions to each emphasizing the place of the following article in the author's career and life. Much better book than Between the World and Me -- probably because the author's self-involvement, being largely confined to the personal "packing material," doesn't intrude as much on the actual essays and reporting. Chapter 6 on reparations is the most famous, but Coates claims that Chapter 8, "My President Was Black," is his favorite. That is a pretty good article if one is willing to admit that it shows Obama to be a better political and moral thinker than Coates -- which I'm not sure was Coates's intention or view! I think that the best chapters are Chapter 5, "Fear of a Black President," and Chapter 6, "The Black Family in the Age of Incarceration," the longest and best researched. After reading those chapters, I was ready to rate the book as 4 1/2 or 5 stars. But then I read the one-sided and strained arguments of the last part of the Epilogue; they were so cranky (in all senses of that word) that they knocked my rating down to 4 stars. Still -- a very worthwhile book.

j
jr3083
Oct 16, 2018

This book is a compilation of long-form essays, one for each of the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Each essay is prefaced with a 2018-dated reflection on the article and the circumstances in which it was written. There is a dialogue going on at two levels: Coates explaining and challenging himself as author at an earlier time, and the laying out of an argument from author to reader in the essay itself. ...
I don’t know whether Coates “grew into” himself as a writer, or whether there is a qualitative difference between the earlier essays in this book and the ones that came later. Perhaps the opening chapters were more current (at the time), or required a familiarity with Black History which I don’t have. For me, as a reader, the intensity of his writing really cranked up with his essay from the Fifth Year, ‘Fear of a Black President.’ This chapter was followed by his Atlantic cover story ‘The Case For Reparations’, which was awarded the George Polk Awards. Here, he demonstrates the structural basis of racism in passionate, logical, informed writing. He extends the argument into his Seventh Year article ‘The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration’. The final chapters reflect the sorrow that twenty-first century ‘eight years’ have led to Trump and such a vulgar reassertion of white supremacy. For this is just how Coates calls it – structural racism to bolster white supremacy – without any liberal loopholes....
These are excellent exemplars of the long form essay, running in some cases to over fifty pages in length. They show the shuttling of an argument from the personal to the political and back again, and the balancing of data and anecdote.

For my complete review see
https://residentjudge.com/2018/10/16/we-were-eight-years-in-power-an-american-tragedy-by-ta-nehisi-coates/

l
larters
Jul 12, 2018

An absolutely searing book, cogently and starkly laying out the history of oppression that has led to the massive inequalities in the American state. The painful history of structural racism against the black community is documented extensively in Coates' lucid prose. A must read.

b
bba1
May 15, 2018

This was an amazing book

CMLibrary_gjd_0 Apr 10, 2018

Mr. Coates always teaches me something when I read his work and this book is no exception! He reminds me again and again that the world I live in is not always the same as the one he's forced to navigate. This is his best work to date; the essays when first written are often quite on point, his reflections on them even more so. I haven't quite finished yet, because honestly it takes some gumption for this white girl to make it through these situations. Please keep writing and I promise to keep reading to learn what I don't know. Thank you for your time and education!

PS Great author to take of the Black Panther comic series, Marvel was very smart indeed!!

a
AaronAardvark1940
Feb 24, 2018

Despite having read various things by black writers and about blacks, I was completely unprepared for the revelatory experience this book gave me. It is tightly reasoned, heavily researched and highly referenced, yet clearly a very emotional effort. It is a wonderful history of the author’s evolution during the eight years of the Obama presidency.
Chapter 6, “The Case For Reparations,” is the most emotionally draining and intellectually challenging section of the book for me. I recently read Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and found the parallels between Jurgis Rudkus’ fictional experience and Clyde Ross’ real experience very disheartening, despite my previous knowledge of redlining (how little I really knew!). Shortly after reading Chapter 6, I read Rebecca Burns’ rent control essay in the March issue of In These Times, further reinforcing my distress.
For those concerned about my use of the word “black,” it is the most common nomenclature used by Coates. He uses “African American” sparingly, and his second most-used name is not one I may repeat here.
Finally, I highly recommend this book. Despite my great respect for the book and its author, I am probably too old and too white to ever absorb all of this into my Weltanschuung.

AnnabelleLee27 Jan 26, 2018

Thorough, thought-provoking, challenging, well written, and bleak. This book is a series of essays published during the Obama presidency, each with a newly written introduction - these reflective and often personal introductions were some of the best and most moving elements of the book. Coates includes a lot of fascinating historical and social context in his analysis but offers no hope, a concept which he addresses directly. I found the final section on Trump's election particularly interesting and disturbing.

w
writermala
Jan 25, 2018

This book includes eight essays, one for each year of the Obama Presidency. There is an epilogue which talks of the tragedy of electing Donald Trump. I found that I enjoyed this book much more than Coates' bestseller, "Between the world and me." The book is well researched and well presented and I now have a much better understanding of what African Americans have undergone over the last three centuries. Coates shows how important it is to offer reparations to the African Americans so they can "Catch up." Each essay touches on a different topic but the undercurrent is the same. Yes, Coates has risen from a Black author to an American author by writing this book which I thoroughly enjoyed.

JCLMELODYK Jan 16, 2018

I'm a big fan of Coates and I enjoyed his notes about his essays where he lays out in hindsight what he was thinking and grappling with when he penned the eight essays. The essays were wonderful as well but it was just really interesting to me to read his commentary on his own writing.

My two favorite essays are "This is How We Lost to the White Man" which is especially fascinating in light of all that was revealed about Bill Cosby. A bit was known to Coates at the time but not the full scale. "The Case for Reparations" is also enlightening because of the history of other reparations that Coates discusses in this essay.

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CMLibrary_gjd_0 May 09, 2018

pg 159 For Americans, the hardest part of paying reparations would not be the outlay of money. It would be acknowledging that their most cherished myth is not real.

CMLibrary_gjd_0 May 09, 2018

pg 125 Barack Obama governs a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as president.

CMLibrary_gjd_0 May 09, 2018

pg 62 We forget that there were those who loved that old country as it was, who did not lament the divisions but drew power from them.

CMLibrary_gjd_0 May 09, 2018

pg 39 We struggle to avoid our feelings, because to actually consider all that was taken, to understand that it was taken systemically, that the taking is essential to America and echoes down through the ages, could make you crazy.

CMLibrary_gjd_0 May 09, 2018

pg 10: I know now that that hunger is a retreat from the knotty present into myth and that what ultimately awaits those who retreat into fair tales, who seek refuge in the mad pursuit to be made great again, in the image of greatness that new was, is tragedy.

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