Collected Essays

by James Baldwin

9/10

Being an inexpert white guy, an attempt to thoroughly review and critique this book of predominantly black-centered racial analyses would be misguided at best. So I’ll keep it short.

I love Baldwin’s language and his organization of thought. He has the gift shared by many great thinkers of framing issues in such a way that they seem at once wholly fresh and deeply intuitive. His eloquence is one of his greatest strengths. Having been fortunate to see many of his interviews and speeches over the years, it was fun to mentally hear his unique rhythm and pronunciation while reading his poetic words.

There were only a couple of things I didn’t like about this collection. One was that it became thematically monotonous after awhile, and the second is that his eloquent language can become convoluted at times, with several commas per sentence, each one sometimes separating only one or two words. At the same time, you can quibble with his presentation, but never with his facts. I defy any critic to find the untruth in these writings.

Overall this is an excellent collection to own, and while I wouldn’t prescribe the entire volume to just anyone, every North-American should have a passing familiarity with Baldwin’s non-fiction. “Nobody Knows My Name” and “The Fire Next Time” are must-reads, while “No Name in the Street” has its moments as well. Among the shorter works, “A Talk to Teachers,” “The White Man’s Guilt,” and “A Report from Occupied Territory” are my highlights. It’s no shock that Baldwin’s most powerful essays coincided with the height of the Civil Rights movement.

Strongly recommend, at least in parts. If you want to understand the U.S., you must understand the country’s unhealthy relationship with its black inhabitants. And nobody elucidates that relationship more penetratingly (and sympathetically) than James Baldwin.

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