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The Fire Next Time Unabridged Edition

104 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1602833647
ISBN-10: 1602833648
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's shocking how little has changed between the races in this country since 1963, when James Baldwin published this coolly impassioned plea to "end the racial nightmare." The Fire Next Time--even the title is beautiful, resonant, and incendiary. "Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?" Baldwin demands, flicking aside the central race issue of his day and calling instead for full and shared acceptance of the fact that America is and always has been a multiracial society. Without this acceptance, he argues, the nation dooms itself to "sterility and decay" and to eventual destruction at the hands of the oppressed: "The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on the American dream."

Baldwin's seething insights and directives, so disturbing to the white liberals and black moderates of his day, have become the starting point for discussions of American race relations: that debasement and oppression of one people by another is "a recipe for murder"; that "color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality"; that whites can only truly liberate themselves when they liberate blacks, indeed when they "become black" symbolically and spiritually; that blacks and whites "deeply need each other here" in order for America to realize its identity as a nation.

Yet despite its edgy tone and the strong undercurrent of violence, The Fire Next Time is ultimately a hopeful and healing essay. Baldwin ranges far in these hundred pages--from a memoir of his abortive teenage religious awakening in Harlem (an interesting commentary on his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain) to a disturbing encounter with Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. But what binds it all together is the eloquence, intimacy, and controlled urgency of the voice. Baldwin clearly paid in sweat and shame for every word in this text. What's incredible is that he managed to keep his cool. --David Laskin --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Speakers or headsets will have to be turned up to listen to Jesse L. Martin's low, slow reading of Baldwin's classic long essay on racism and African-American identity. Martin seeks to be respectful of Baldwin, but he ends up rendering the meaning and the force of his work relatively inert. Pausing in poorly selected places, placing emphasis where little should be placed, Martin does not convey the precision and anger of Baldwin's prose. Instead, Baldwin's book becomes Great Literature, to be intoned and honored, but not truly grasped. Readers with an interest in Baldwin's work will be far better served by reading his prose to themselves than having Martin read it to them. A Vintage paperback.(Apr.)
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Product Details

  • Audio CD: 1 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America; Unabridged edition (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602833648
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602833647
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America's foremost writers. His essays, such as "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-twentieth-century America. A Harlem, New York, native, he primarily made his home in the south of France.

His novels include Giovanni's Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in much savage criticism from the black community. Going to Meet the Man (1965) and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968) provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
I was born in 1968, six years after The Fire Next Time was published - I lived the period that Baldwin chronicles vicariously through my parents. There are few essayists who equal Baldwin's gift for finding the right phrase to communicate a concept, both intellectually and emotionally. Indeed it's the emotion that Baldwin so effectively weaves into his prose that gives The Fire Next Time its impact. At its core, this essay is a plea.
Baldwin dissects the nature of Black-White relations in the early sixties. He rejects the both the pandering of White liberals and the separatist rhetoric of Black radicals as simplistic; the former as condescending and insincere and the latter as unrealistic and reactionary. The conclusion that he reaches is that Blacks and Whites, whether they realize it or not, are locked in a symbiotic relationship, and destruction for one will mean destruction for both. Put positively, however, the key to their salvations are linked. No one is free until all are free.
Baldwin focuses on two important anecdotes. The first deals with his seduction by the church, his brief career as a child minister, and his subsequent rejection of Christianity. The second deals with an encounter with Elijah Muhammad, then leader of the Nation of Islam. Both show religion as an escape mechanism, and both are told with a convincing immediacy and a sense of candor.
Baldwin's rejection of Christianity appears to be a crucial step in his awakening, and in his rejection of the beliefs that 60's White society expected Black people to hold. The church for Baldwin was an escape mechanism, but having been consoled he soon fled the church, overwhelmed by its hypocrisy and abuses, both historical and current. He concludes "...whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being...
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on December 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
James Baldwin caused quite a stir in 1961 when he published "Letter from a Region in My Mind" in The New Yorker, followed by "A Letter to My Nephew" in The Progressive the next month. He collected these two essays in this small volume, and it's considered (along with "Notes of a Native Son") his best work. His biting, heartfelt analysis on race relations flings its barbs equally at the legacy of American white supremacy and the duplicity of liberal white guilt; although it was written more than forty years ago, it reminds us both how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

Baldwin frames his observations around two thematically related biographical episodes: his brief three-year stint as an adolescent Pentecostal preacher in Harlem in the early 1940s and his journalistic visit to the headquarter of the Nation of Islam in Chicago's South Side twenty years later. Both institutions, Baldwin finds, suffer from an ambivalent myopia: Christianity in general "helped to protect and sanctify the power that was so ruthlessly being used by people who were indeed seeking a city, but not one in the heavens, and one to be made, very definitely, by captive hands"; the Nation of Islam "inculcated in the demoralized Negro population a truer and more individual sense of its own worth" through the "fearful paradox" of creating a hopeful future with "an invented past." Blacks, he seems to say, have traded in the belief system forced on them by their oppressors to a understandable longing for an illusory past. His conclusion is aggressive but perceptive: "the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse, and does not belong to any other--not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam."

But that's only half the story--or certainly less than half.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Of all of the great authors of the 20th century, James Baldwin was probably closest, both in style and moral authority, to some of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. "The Fire Next Time," first published back in 1963, represents Baldwin at his most impassioned. This book consists of an open letter to Baldwin's nephew, along with an extended autobiographical essay. Throughout the book, Baldwin writes with insight and compassion about the complexities of race in the United States.
Baldwin writes of his spiritual crisis as a teenager--a crisis which led to his career as a youth minister in an African-American Christian church. He writes bitterly of his ultimate disillusionment with the emptiness and hypocrisy he found in the church. Baldwin also writes of his meeting with Elijah Muhammad, the fiery leader of the Nation of Islam sect and mentor to controversial Black leader Malcolm X.
Baldwin's testament is a harsh critique of 20th century Christendom. Reflecting upon the rise of the Nazis in one of the world's most "Christian" nations, Baldwin declares, "From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms."
"The Fire Next time" is both an illuminating historical document of a turbulent era, and a superb piece of literary craftsmanship. All those interested in the art of nonfiction prose should take time to experience Baldwin's mastery of the medium. But even more importantly, we should all take time to consider his ideas on race, on religion, on prejudice, and on hope.
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