What We Are Reading Today: The Fire Is upon Us by Nicholas Buccola

Updated 24 October 2019

What We Are Reading Today: The Fire Is upon Us by Nicholas Buccola

On Feb. 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, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. 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.” 


What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

Updated 02 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

Porcelain was invented in medieval China—but its secret recipe was first reproduced in Europe by an alchemist in the employ of the Saxon king Augustus the Strong. Saxony’s revered Meissen factory could not keep porcelain’s ingredients secret for long, however, and scores of Holy Roman princes quickly founded their own mercantile manufactories, soon to be rivaled by private entrepreneurs, eager to make not art but profits. As porcelain’s uses multiplied and its price plummeted, it lost much of its identity as aristocratic ornament, instead taking on a vast number of banal, yet even more culturally significant, roles. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it became essential to bourgeois dining, and also acquired new functions in insulator tubes, shell casings, and teeth.

Weaving together the experiences of entrepreneurs and artisans, state bureaucrats and female consumers, chemists and peddlers, Porcelain traces the remarkable story of “white gold” from its origins as a princely luxury item to its fate in Germany’s cataclysmic 20th century. For 300 years, porcelain firms have come and gone, but the industry itself, at least until very recently, has endured. After Augustus, porcelain became a quintessentially German commodity, integral to provincial pride, artisanal industrial production, and a familial sense of home.

Telling the story of porcelain’s transformation from coveted luxury to household necessity and flea market staple, Porcelain offers a fascinating alternative history of art, business, taste, and consumption in Central Europe.