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: A Wonder to Behold

Updated 11 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: A Wonder to Behold

Authors: Anastasia Amrhein, Clare Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Knott

In the ancient Near East, expert craftspeople were more than technicians: They numbered among those special members of society who could access the divine. 

While the artisans’ names are largely unknown today, their legacy remains in the form of spectacular artworks and monuments. One of the most celebrated works of antiquity — Babylon’s Ishtar Gate and its affiliated Processional Way — featured a dazzling array of colorful beasts assembled from molded, baked, and glazed bricks. 

Such an awe-inspiring structure demanded the highest level of craft; each animal was created from dozens of bricks that interlocked like a jigsaw. Yet this display of technical and artistic skill also served a ritual purpose, since the gate provided a divinely protected entrance to the sacred inner city of Babylon.

A Wonder to Behold explores ancient Near Eastern ideas about the transformative power of materials and craftsmanship as they relate to the Ishtar Gate, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. This beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies an exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.