Reading In Common Program

2016: Between The World And Me


About the Book

Book CoverIn a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis.  Americans have built an empire on the idea of "race," a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men - bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.  What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?  And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.  Coates shares the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatiory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children's lives were taken as American plunder.  Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

(text taken from inside book cover)

About the Author:  @tanehisicoates

Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Samori. In 160 pages, it moves from Baltimore to Howard University to New York City to Paris, France, addressing what it means to be black in America. 

An Atlantic National Correspondent, Coates has written many influential articles, including “The Case for Reparations,” which reignited the long-dormant conversation of how to repay African-Americans for a system of institutional racism that’s robbed them of wealth and success for generations. 

Coates’s debut book, The Beautiful Struggle, is a tough and touching memoir of growing up in Baltimore during the age of crack. In 2012, Coates was awarded the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. Judge Hendrik Hertzberg, of The New Yorker, wrote, “Coates is one of the most elegant and sharp observers of race in America. He is an upholder of universal values, a brave and compassionate writer who challenges his readers to transcend narrow self-definitions and focus on shared humanity.”

A former Village Voice writer, Coates is the Journalist in Residence at the School of Journalism at CUNY. He was previously the Martin Luther King Visiting Associate Professor at MIT, and has been awarded the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. He is the winner of a 2015 MacArthur Fellowship.

A Reading In Common Event is scheduled for Tuesday, September 13th, at 7:00p.m. in Christ Chapel.  Jamelle Bouie is the guest speaker.  He is a Chief Political Correspondent, Slate Magazine & CBS News Political Analyst.  Jamelle will offer thought-provoking insight and raise questions about current national issues.

For additional readings, please check out the following websites.  These additional readings can help frame the text for dialogue and discussion rather than thinking about the book as an absolute.


What do first-year students need to do?

  • Actively read this book before arriving on campus
  • Take notes
  • Highlight passages you think are important
  • Be prepared to discuss the book with your Gustie Greeter and group facilitator during orientation

Obtaining Your Copy

  • Books can be purchased while on campus during summer registration. The Book Mark, located on the lower level of the Campus Center, has many copies of the book available with a special Reading in Common insert. If you miss the opportunity at registration, you may also purchase the book online at The Gustavus BookMark.

Goals and aims of the program

  • Encourage intellectual interaction among students in conjunction with faculty
  • Welcome students to the academic life of Gustavus
  • Facilitate a shared academic experience for all students
  • Emphasize reading as a significant component of the college experience
  • Tie together transition and integration experiences of first-year students
  • Provide opportunities for first-year students to explore issues and ideas relevant to our community and our world

How is the Reading In Common Program used?

All first-year students and Gustie Greeters read the book over the summer. These students will meet with faculty members during orientation to discuss the book. The book is often used as a reference or resource in students' First Term Seminars (FTS). A website is maintained with discussion boards and other resources relating to the book and its subject matter. Finally, the author and/or representative visits Gustavus in the Fall to speak about the book and the issues raised in the book.

History of the program

The Reading In Common Program began in the 2000–2001 Academic Year. Books in the Reading In Common Program have included:

  • 2016: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • 2015: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • 2014: Where Am I Wearing?, Where Am I Eating? by Kelsey Timmerman
  • 2013: A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure
  • 2012: The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
  • 2011: The Wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn
  • 2010: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • 2009: Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
  • 2008: Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China by John Pomfret
  • 2007: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • 2006: Honky by Dalton Conley
  • 2005: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • 2004: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  • 2003: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  • 2002: The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill
  • 2001: The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • 2000: The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

Books are chosen based on their literary quality, reading manageability (college level reading but not too long), interdisciplinary nature, and whether author is available for a campus appearance.


Have a suggestion for next year's Reading in Common book? Complete our suggestion form!