Venezuela fire Carlos Becerra/Getty Images

Long Reads

The Fire This Time?

With the arrival of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, the world can look forward to a bumper crop of large-scale crises. The international community now must confront a series of disasters that those paying attention predicted with remarkable accuracy.

When James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was first published, early in 1963, the United States was entering a period of vast social and political upheaval. Having just gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans would soon endure a presidential assassination and almost a decade of war in Vietnam.

Baldwin, of course, was concerned with a much deeper, slow-brewing crisis – one that had been covered up and left to rot in the attic of America’s soul. It had been a century since the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin observed, but African-Americans were still being “born under conditions not far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago.”

The book’s title comes from an old slave song: “God sent Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.” And as we enter the fall of 2017, such apocalyptic language seems fitting. In the US, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, encouraged by Donald Trump’s presidency, have slithered out of hiding to spew their hatred. Large portions of the American Southeast are now dealing with flooding of Biblical proportions. And the US government is engaged in another perilous nuclear standoff, this time on the Korean Peninsula.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point or our archived content, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free and 2 archived contents. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point and archived contents, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Handpicked to read next

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.