We Were Eight Years in Power

We Were Eight Years in Power

An American Tragedy

Book - 2017
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In this "urgently relevant"* collection featuring the landmark essay "The Case for Reparations," the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me "reflects on race, Barack Obama's presidency and its jarring aftermath"*--including the election of Donald Trump.

New York Times Bestseller * Finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times * USA Today * Time * Los Angeles Times * San Francisco Chronicle * Essence * O: The Oprah Magazine * The Week * Kirkus Reviews

* Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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.
Publisher: New York : One World, [2017]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780399590566
0399590560
Characteristics: xvii, 367 pages : illustration ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: American tragedy

Opinion

From Library Staff

List - Favorite Reads of 2017
DPLjennyp Dec 07, 2017

This man. The conscience of America.


From the critics


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LPL_ShirleyB Aug 27, 2020

Coates reveals the prevalence of racism in this country within the context of President Obama’s 2 terms and throughout our history. This book feels urgent with the election so near and should be required reading. The reality of injustice is difficult to face, but denial is getting us nowhere!
“An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates
The reader for this audiobook was skilled at using many different intonations for the many quotes featured within these pages.

t
TEENREVIEWBOARD
Aug 11, 2020

This is another book that I felt was essential to read right now with the renewed attention towards the Black Lives Matters movement. This book is a compilation of some of Coates’ essays, therefore you do not need to read the whole book, or even the chapters in order. However, each one is more moving than the last, and I highly suggest reading all of them. Personally, my favourite was in the 6th “year” (chapter), with the essay, The Case for Reparations. The thing about this book is that yes, it is somewhat opinionated, but everything is backed up by statistics, facts, interviews, and personal narrative, making it really hard to ignore all of the things being said. I fully believe that everyone should read this book, it has impacted my thoughts and day-to-day actions an unfathomable amount (more than any other piece of literature ever has). 5/5
@LucindatheGreen of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

z
zenmark29
Mar 13, 2020

Well written, a lot of research went into Coates' work. It covers a lot of important history that I never saw in my history courses, which focused on white American exceptionalism. He validated a lot of what I saw from my own viewpoint during President Obama's time in office. I do recommend you read this book.

l
lukasevansherman
Nov 27, 2019

Along with Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most penetrating and intelligent writer on race and racism in America. Following up his instant classic "Between the World and Me," this brings together 8 of his article from "The Atlantic," including his most famous (and divisive) piece, "The Case for Reparations," as well as his requiem for the Obama years, "My President was Black" and "Fear of a Black President." Coates his written new introductions and an epilogue. You might disagree with him, you might find him too "angry," but you have to read him. His newest book is a novel.

STPL_JessH Sep 13, 2019

I'm usually weary about essay collections of previously published material. In this case, I really enjoyed the commentary before each essay and it almost made up for the many moments of repetition. I mean really, how many times do we need to see that Newt Gingrich quote?!

I appreciate that Coates faces the contradictions in his writing and offers frank appraisal when references were missed in the original works. It was also clear to see his growth as a writer over the course of these eight essays. I loved his call out at the end of the Epilogue. Despite my complaints about this book, I really enjoyed it and will come back to it again.

That said, I agree with Roxane Gay's review that there is "a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender." Coates is a gifted and passionate writer. Imagine what we could read if his writing included a deconstruction of gender and really wrestled with the influence gender norms, expectations, and oppression continue to have in daily life, especially when they intersect with race.

d
dvonne
Apr 07, 2019

ta-nehisi coates calls donald trump the "first white president". if this were true, it would indeed be of interest. however, coates fails to mention that, of all the presidents, only two have NOT been white: the african-american barack obama, and the chinese grover cleveland. this seems like a big oversight, and made me doubt the veracity of some of his other research. what's funny is that this is a book about race, and i had to "race" to finish it before it was due back at the library. i'm kind of a slow reader

m
meeshmorgan
Feb 23, 2019

A FIVE star searing book!
I grew up as a white girl in inner-city LA and I know the difference between poverty and poverty consciousness. I imagined I knew what it might be to be poor and black. I knew nothing!
This book lays bare facts I dimly comprehended as well as explaining the unfathomable appointment of Donald Trump.
I found this grueling and upsetting to read, but I struggled through it although gaining such insight was painful making me feel furious and helpless. Yet, I was only reading this, NOT experiencing it!
My education began with Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and other books by Gladwell and progressed with Ta -Nehisi Coates.

a
autumnwind
Feb 21, 2019

We, were eight years in power and I am white?
I trusted Coates narrative when he wrote of his own!
This tears st the very fabric of trust as a people We is different, for different people today and going forward!
There must be Respect for one another and Trust! As a Society WE need to talk and I believe this book shuts down future conversation.

r
rlbeekman
Dec 03, 2018

Pieces from the author's 8 years at The Atlantic plus framing and introductions for each article emphasizing its place 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 7, "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/

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CMLibrary_gjd 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 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 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 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 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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