The Cornel West Reader

The Cornel West Reader

The Cornel West Reader

The Cornel West Reader


An anthology of the best work of an absolutely essential philosopher of the modern American experience, this reader brings together West's essays on race, religion, politics, philosophy and the arts.


The primary aim of this reader is to lay bare the basic structure of my intellectual work and life. This reader takes the form of a variety of voices and an array of interests that focus on two fundamental themes: the art of living and the expansion of democracy.

My painful quest for wisdom is an endless journey that tries to delve into the darkness of my soul to create a more mature and compassionate person. My political project of deepening democracy in the world is a perennial process of highlighting the plight of the wretched of the earth and broadening the scope of human dignity.

This volume not only represents the progression of my thought but also consists of my reflections on it. I chose these pieces rather than others from my corpus because they best represent the crucial moments of an evolving whole. This whole—fraught with tensions and contradictions—reflects my attempt to shatter my own parochial limits and provincial shortcomings. My efforts to understand myself are inseparable from understanding what it means to be human, modem, American, black, male and straight in global and local contexts. And since this text was put together at a unique moment in my life—when Eros erupted and life quickened—it marks a turning point in many ways.

This volume will, I hope, keep these ideas alive in the mind of the reader so that they may be debated and refined. In my travels as a speaker, I continue to be struck by the persistence of certain themes and concerns of my audiences. These include, of course, race but, more generally, focus on questions of the good and how one might lead a meaningful life—a life in dialogue with history, connected to community—without falling into despair. This reader should serve as a reproach to easy despair and an inspiration to those who wish to travel with me on this quest.

I would like to thank my agent, Gloria Loomis, for her extraordinary care and support of my work. I would like to acknowledge the visionary and superb editorial work of my friend and brother Tim Bartlett. This book exists, in part, because of him. And I would like to thank my friends and sisters Vanessa Mobley and Libby Garland for their excellent editorial assistance. It was sheer fun to work with them. Finally, I would like to congratulate my dear mother upon receiving a well-deserved recognition as an exemplary teacher and principal in the form of the new Irene B. West Elementary School in Sacramento, California.

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