Over his decade of work as a journalist, senior editor and national correspondent for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates gained a dedicated readership for his writings on culture, politics, and social issues. Together with his formidable nonfiction books – including the #1 NYT bestseller Between the World and Me – Coates has emerged as a vital voice on race in America. His debut novel The Water Dancer was released late last year to instant critical acclaim, and selected first pick for the revival of Oprah’s Book Club.

In a list of his ten favorite books for NY-based bookstore One Grand, Coates included work on history, poetry, social status and soul music. Find his top ten below, and complement with the reading lists of Roxane Gay, Trevor Noah, and Alice Walker.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (also rec’d by David BowieHaruki Murakami, Hunter S. Thompson & Florence Welch)

“I’m a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it.” -TNC

Postwar by Tony Judt

“A book that deeply informs my journalist sense. Writers-particularly American writers-constantly feel the pull of soulutionism, the desire to assure their readers that there is a way out, even when there isn’t. Judt refused this. History, he understood, does not exist to comfort us.” -TNC

The Waterworks by E.L. Doctorow

“What a strange and beautiful book. The story of a postbellum American newspaper editor investigating the undead. Doctorow’s most underrated work.” -TNC

Battlecry of Freedom by James McPherson

“The definitive history of the Civil War. One of the greatest works of history I’ve ever read and arguably the best one volume history in existence. Having said that…” -TNC

The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood

“God, I love this book. It’s the history of an utterly depressing war with no real nobility, that ultimately descends into cannibalism. Right up my alley.” -TNC

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick (also rec’d by David Bowie)

“History of soul music, told in profiles. I read this is as young man really trying to understand what journalism and history meant. Spent a lot of time meditating on Sam and Dave after this one.” -TNC

Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komanyakaa

“Probably my favorite living poet. No one else taught me more about how important it was to think about how words make people feel. It’s enough for people to know something is true. They have to feel it’s true.” -TNC

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (also rec’d by Roxane Gay)

“Again, I like this book for its willingness to embrace the tragic. No happy endings. The book is a defense of elitism, something I guess I oppose. But I found it credible, here.” -TNC

The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché

“Another book of poetry that taught me what the form was. Forché has a beautiful sense of rhythm. I teach her famous poem “The Colonel” in essay and nonfiction classes. It’s all about what you don’t say.” -TNC

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (also rec’d by David Bowie)

“Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read. It’s technically two essays but it feels like one. Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.” -TNC

(via One Grand Books)

Categories: Writers

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Ta-Nehisi Coates' Top 10 Books

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