The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate Over Race in America
A great read.--Whoopi Goldberg, The View
How the clash between the civil rights firebrand and the father of modern conservatism continues to illuminate America's racial divide
On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to witness a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America's most influential conservative intellectual. The topic was the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro, and no one who has seen the debate can soon forget it. Nicholas Buccola's The Fire Is upon Us is the first book to tell the full story of the event, the radically different paths that led Baldwin and Buckley to it, the controversies that followed, and how the debate and the decades-long clash between the men continues to illuminate America's racial divide today.
Born in New York City only fifteen months apart, the Harlem-raised Baldwin and the privileged Buckley could not have been more different, but they both rose to the height of American intellectual life during the civil rights movement. By the time they met in Cambridge, Buckley was determined to sound the alarm about a man he considered an eloquent menace. For his part, Baldwin viewed Buckley as a deluded reactionary whose popularity revealed the sickness of the American soul. The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted Baldwin's call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley's unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.
A remarkable story of race and the American dream, The Fire Is upon Us reveals the deep roots and lasting legacy of a conflict that continues to haunt our politics.
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About the Author
"An insightful, thoroughly researched, and well-written analysis of a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in America."--David Leeming, author of James Baldwin: A Biography
"To answer the question 'How did we get to where we are today?' this stimulating book takes us back to a pivotal moment when the civil rights movement was struggling to change America and the conservative movement was attempting, in the words of William F. Buckley Jr., to stand 'athwart history, yelling Stop!' Nicholas Buccola's central thesis is controversial and provocative--in every sense of the word."--Carl T. Bogus, author of Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism
"Two important voices. Two different visions of America. The Fire Is upon Us details the extraordinary gulf between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr., which set the stage for their fateful encounter in Cambridge in 1965 and brilliantly describes our current malaise. With care and balance, Buccola examines these two historic figures and what followed from their views on race and the American dream. This is a must-read--especially as we are forced to choose between competing visions of who we take ourselves to be as Americans."--Eddie S. Glaude Jr., author of Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul
"Written with marvelous style, The Fire Is upon Us is captivating, provocative, and exciting. Through its deep and thoughtful portraits of Baldwin and Buckley and its readings of American culture, politics, and history, the book casts light on the national past, present, and (one presumes) future."--Susan McWilliams Barndt, editor of A Political Companion to James Baldwin
"With flair and grace, Nicholas Buccola provides the unforgettable backstory to a momentous debate--a clash of antiracist and racist ideas--over the very meaning of the American dream. It is a debate that still resonates today. A vital read."--Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist
"A study of two acclaimed American thinkers on opposite sides of the political spectrum that underscores the enormous race and class divisions in 1960s America, many of which still exist today. . . . An elucidating work that makes effective use of comparison and contrast."--Kirkus Reviews
"Nicholas Buccola's The Fire Is upon Us is a riveting, expansive companion text to a historic debate that swept the nation. . . . Following the men's journeys with meticulous detail, Buccola's biographical/historical/political hybrid proffers valuable insights for the current day."--Foreword Reviews
"Nicholas Buccola's captivating new book, The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr. and the Debate over Race in America, not only masterfully re-creates the debate in dramatic detail, but provides critical context, illuminating the road that each man traveled to Cambridge, and the groundbreaking work that established Baldwin and Buckley as iconic figures on opposite sides of the battle over racial justice and white supremacy that divided the country then as today."---Steve Nathans-Kelly, New York Journal of Books
"This is a book I highly recommend all Americans read."---Christian Starr, ThyBlackMan.com
"The Fire Is Upon Us . . . sets the context for the epic confrontation, illuminating two vastly different visions of race relations in the United States that, to a great extent, remain relevant today . . . Buccola concludes, provocatively, that although Buckley lost the debate at Cambridge, he used racial resentment to help conservatives capture the Republican party, take control of southern politics, and win the presidency in seven of the last ten elections. The price of victory, he adds, 'has been incredibly high'."---Dr. Glenn Altschuler, Florida Courier
"Scintillating."---Robert Tsai, Boston Review
"Both a dual biography of Buckley and Baldwin and an acute commentary on a great intellectual prizefight. . . . [Nicholas Buccola] deftly guides the reader through the rhetorical and philosophical moves of Baldwin's speech. . . . The Fire Is Upon Us becomes revelatory in its interpretation of Buckley's performance. . . . It is tempting to view the Baldwin-Buckley debate as a small victory for the idea of racial equality: Baldwin carried the floor vote 544 to 164. But part of the wisdom of The Fire Is Upon Us is that it leaves the import of the evening open to question."---Thomas Meaney, New York Times Book Review
"A great read."---Whoopi Goldberg, The View
"Chicago Tribune writer John Warner's Book That Will Help You Better Understand the Messed-Up Nature of the World"
"One of Whoopi Goldberg's Favorite Things, ABC The View"
"New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice"
"A gripping snapshot of a country riven by injustice yet anxious about radical change."--New York Times Book Review
"You can watch James Baldwin's historic 1965 debate at the Cambridge Union with William F. Buckley Jr. on YouTube. ... Buccola's book reveals the story behind it. The two men were born just 15 months apart, yet grew up in separate Americas. Buccola provides an exegesis of the lives of both men, and an evaluation of a century-defining debate. The fault lines between Buckley and Baldwin are just as relevant as ever."---Soraya Nadia McDonald, The Undefeated
The Fire Is Upon Us is written for readers on both the left and the right, its prose wonderfully accessible . . . [and it]
holds a mirror up to the strident political and racial divisions of the U.S. in 2019. The language may be a little different today from what Baldwin and Buckley used, but the sharp terms of the debate over whether people of color in the United States get to have the American dream remains the same then as now.
"One of The Undefeated's 25 Can't Miss Books of 2019"
"One of The Progressive's Favorite Books of 2019"
"The Fire Is Upon Us makes a compelling case for why Baldwin and Buckley were who they were and, in doing so, serves as a good starting point for understanding the nature of the present partisan divide."---Aaron Robertson, LitHub
"One of LitHub's 50 Favorite Books of the Year"
"One of Inside Higher Ed's Books to Give the Educator in Your Life for the Holidays"
"Rigorous and even-handed. . . . [T]houghtful and generous. . . . The contemporary reader is likely to experience surprise at some of Buckley's opinions, and to delight at reminders of Baldwin in his heyday."---James Campbell, Wall Street Journal
"Baldwin won the debate hands down, but the event itself is mere scaffolding for the more ambitious and interesting book Buccola achieves: a genealogy of how white supremacy-- -- and attempts to slay it -- have stayed at the center of American politics for more than half a century, up to and including our Trumpian present."---Bill V. Mullen, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Beautifully told and wonderful to read."---Bill Goldstein, Bill's Books NBC's Weekend Today in NY
"Written with drive and abundant research (including a transcript of both speeches, featuring the first-ever complete published transcript of Buckley's), 'Fire' propels us through the lives and careers that intersected in that momentous face-off. . . . Crackling with intelligence."---John Timpane, TruthDig