• The Fire Is upon Us

  • James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America
  • By: Nicholas Buccola
  • Narrated by: Prentice Onayemi
  • Length: 14 hrs and 42 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (138 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 15 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.

©2019 Nicholas Buccola (P)2019 Princeton University Press

Critic 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)

"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)

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Sadly, the story is timeless.

Here we are 75 years later and the dialogue is unchanged. Lest you think Trump invented the racist and white supremacist polarization we are experiencing today, read this to find out how sadly mistaken you are. Donald Trump could be the reincarnation of William Buckley but with less than 25% of his intelligence.

9 people found this helpful

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Incredibly insightful articulation of the fundamental race issue of our time

Fascinating. By careful selection, organization and explanation this book articulates the profound and unflinching insights of Baldwin and the foundation for the Trump/Bannon era of manipulation in the service of conservatism in favor of the elites, established by Buckley. Far from dry, it was very engaging.

4 people found this helpful

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Not suitable for listening during commute

Narration is monotonous, and enunciation is poor, so it is difficult to hear in the car during the commute.

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent book of ideas

An excellent book of ideas, some of which surprised this reader. Note that most of the book relates the views and statements of the two protagonists before and after the debate. The actual debate takes up a small portion of the book. I recommend it highly.

3 people found this helpful

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Great book audio version is so so

I like the narration of this one but it’s very low key and the overall volume is rather low
The book itself was great and provided the context needed to understand the lead up to and aftermath of the debate.

2 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

Wonderful and fascinating dual biography
Prentice Onayemi is one of the best readers on Audible

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Well done, but

The book is well-done, but it is more love letter to James Baldwin, and a good and well-deserved description of his works and thought in the 50's and 60's, than a fair and balanced treatment of two divergent points of view. The treatment of Buckley and his actions and thought unfortunately mars what could have been a really good study.

8 people found this helpful

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An extremely important book

I absolutely loved this book. To start, Nick does a wonderful job of weaving together the biographies of Baldwin and Buckley, creating a beautiful tapestry of their lives while interposing his brilliant analyses of their ideas and beliefs. But the icing on the cake is the sublime narration by Prentice Onayemi. Too often I will begin listening to an audiobook that I have to then delete because the narrator is too monotoned and bland, but Prentice has an almost seductive quality to his voice which brings that added layer of enjoyment to the book.

Finally, I would like to say that, having taken many of Nick’s classes, I can say that this book is wholeheartedly him and while it is Prentice who is talking, I can hear Nick’s voice throughout.

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Better know Buckley, yet understand him not at all

Watch the debate first, then read or listen to this book, then watch it again.

Buckley is all flourish, using aggression and letting the superiority of his upbringing drip from every statement and attack. We find out the mind behind the "happy warrior" in an excellent book, though I frankly found Buckley to be more disgusting with every chapter: lazy in his intellect while tireless in his fights against equality between his WASPy, entitled life any... well just about anyone who isn't him but most especially African Americans.

He never tires of associating the most radical ideas opposed to him with even measured change being asked of the South before and during the Civil Rights movement. I will certainly read more by Buccola and by Baldwin, but I think I'll never be talked into reading Buckley after this relatively light sampling.

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Mumbles and whispers

I'm only a chapter in and I have stop until I can listen with headphones or read along with the print.The narrator is terrible.