America's only Black prime-time news anchor meditates on the nation's battle with racism, reflecting on historical events and his own personal experiences as a gay Black man coming of age in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and one of the nation's most famous journalists of color.
... an audacious and improbable book by a remarkable man ... Relatively young, a short 20 years ago, the CNN anchor was almost unknown. How then, without seeming arrogant or pompous, does he place his life and his experience beside the best-known champions from the pantheon of Black freedom fighters? Invoking the zeal and courage of Dr King and Sojourner Truth, portraying even the proscribed accomplishments of Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen in the same light of heroic survival, his is a voice as essential for our time as Ta-Nehisi Coates and as compelling as Caroline Randall Williams ... Affectingly, he appeals to a growing fanbase by relating that success notwithstanding, his was a life as troubled as their own ... Ending, Lemon muses of how he and Tim speak of race, sometimes disagreeing but always finding their way home to the love they share. This gets us back to the book’s beginning. And that’s what makes this slight work so counterintuitive
... a forthright, historically supported examination of the racial divisions that have plagued our nation ... Much like his show, the book jumps around in both content and tone. Sections exploring deep American history suddenly give way to contemporary anecdotes ... Lemon is at his strongest when he turns his gaze backward, blending our nation’s history with his own ... It’s both direct in tone and obvious in content—the type of unsparing historical statement from an 'openly Black' news anchor likely to prompt some white viewers to clutch their pearls even as Black viewers look at one another and unemotionally remark, 'Yeah, we already knew that.'
Lemon opens the book with a letter to his nephew lamenting the way the world is and the need to fight complacency in the battle against racism. It’s an intimate, tender approach that has been used with more poignancy by Black intellectuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ta-Nehisi Coates, Imani Perry and Kiese Laymon ... Baldwin has become the iconic shorthand and barometer for Black ethos, his work and identity forming a fundamental part of our culture. Lemon’s attempt to associate his work with the brilliance of Baldwin can only come up short. This Is the Fire is not up to the task of extending Baldwin’s legacy or vision. Ultimately, Lemon leaves me wondering who he’s speaking to—who his friends are in his subtitle. They seem to be mainly White people. That’s not shade, but it was something that sat with me as I read ... This Is The Fire does all the right things: it taps into history, the present, the anger, the hope, the energy, the sickness, the people, the places, the familiar and the unfamiliar. But it leaves me wanting more.