Ta-Nehisi Coates on Tony Judt

Primary Sources is a podcast where writers and intellectuals talk about some of the greatest influences on their work.
“Writers are being made to carry the weight of politicians.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is best known for his writing about racism in America—in particular, his 2014 essay “The Case for Reparations,” and his 2015 book, Between the World and Me. Ta-Nehisi’s readers know that the toll racism has inflicted on the bodies of Black people, and the enduring power of white supremacy, have long preoccupied him. On this show, however, he’ll be talking about a subject—or rather an influence—that few people associate with his work.

That influence is the late Tony Judt, a British historian. In 2005, Judt published his magnum opus, Postwar, a sweeping, 933-page history of modern Europe.

In this conversation, which was recorded last fall, Ta-Nehisi talks about why Postwar had such a profound impact on him. He explores the preface he wrote to Ill Fares the Land, another of Judt’s books, which has just been reissued by Penguin. He also talks about the power of language to help us imagine a better world, whether he identifies as an Afro-pessimist, and what it’s like to grow up in a nationalist household.



Subscribe to Primary Sources on Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher to listen and to be notified when new episodes are released. Our RSS feed is available here.


View a transcript of the episode here.


Mentioned in this episode:


Primary Sources is a co-production of Public Books and Type Media Center. Our show’s executive producer is Caitlin Zaloom, a founding editor of Public Books. Our producer is DJ Cashmere. Our engineer is Jess Engebretson. Special thanks to Kelley Deane McKinney, the publisher and managing editor of Public Books and Taya Grobow, executive director of Type Media Center. Our theme music is “Kitty in the Window,” composed by Podington Bear (Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License).


Rebecca Solnit on George Orwell

By Eyal Press
Featured Image: Photograph of Ta-Nehisi Coates by Gabriella Demczuk.