Carl Bogus’s Buckley Book Briskley Reviewed!


Carl T. Bogus has produced, to my knowledge, the second biography of William F. Buckley from a man of the left.  John Judis (then of The New Republic) wrote the first.  My observations are the following:

  1. Bogus does a brilliant job of relating the history of the 20th century.  I learned a great deal about the Mexican revolution and Vietnam from him.  Though his sympathies are clearly to the left, he strikes me as a fair commentator.
  2. The book is not as good at dealing with Buckley the man as the earlier Judis volume is.  
  3. The book treats Buckley essentially as though he died in 1968.  I finished the section on Vietnam and was ready for the story of the next three decades.  I wanted to hear about Joe Sobran, John Sullivan, Rich Lowry, the controversy in which David Frum read people out of the movement over the response to 9-11, and the choices Buckley made in selecting his successors for the controlling shares of NR.  I wanted to hear about his friendships with John Kenneth Galbraith and David Niven.  Bogus recognizes that one of Buckley’s great advantages was his personality and charisma.  We don’t get much of that, but we do receive a gigantic helping of Buckley’s slow evolution on race.  
  4. Lots of James Burnham in this volume.  I appreciated that.  He was a bit of an enigma to me.  Bogus does a great deal to make him more clear.  
  5. This book helped me understand the falling out between Garry Wills and Buckley better.  Would like to have heard more about Joan Didion’s relationship to the magazine.
  6. Not enough about Buckley and Reagan.  If you read their published correspondence, you can see a very rich relationship and one worth writing more about.  Bogus does give a lot of credit to Reagan as a president.  
  7. Bogus is a self-proclaimed liberal Burkean.  A different title for this book could have been Buckley: Not as Smart as Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke.  
  8. No real mention of what may be Buckley’s best book, Cruising Speed.
  9. I will read anything about William F. Buckley.  Glad to have read this one.  Next up is Priscilla Buckley’s Living It Up with National Review.

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