THE SON OF A BLACK FATHER and a white mother, Thomas Chatterton Williams perhaps felt an amplified pressure to prove his blackness—that he could "keep it real" just as well as any of the wannabe gangsters in his racially diverse New Jersey hometown. It didn't help that Williams' black father was a professor who crammed their house full of books. Throughout Williams' youth in the '90s, the hiphop culture that surrounded him looked down upon any kind of book learning, instead placing utmost value on bling and thuggery.

Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture is Williams' memoir of his gradual rejection of those values. As Williams defines it, hiphop culture isn't so much the sphere that immediately surrounds rap music as it is the entire contemporary black experience, down to the clothes, the cars, the language, the worship of money-making athletes and entertainers. Williams condemns these values for stunting the development of the black community as a whole.

It might be tempting to paint this audacious but convincing argument as the result of a privileged education. After an adolescence in which he struggled to appear as black as he could, Williams went to Georgetown and traveled abroad. But Williams has heft behind his words, and his passion for self-awareness makes Losing My Cool a compelling call to arms, even as he acknowledges that his target audience will likely ignore it simply because it comes in the form of a book.