Bill Buckley’s “Book”? Or, Conservative Collage-ing…

Let me begin by saying that I like William F. Buckley. I really do. Met him once. Gracious and generous. Hell, it’s hard not to like him. As a libertarian/liberal (in the 19th Century tradition), I know that he almost single-handedly resurrected the conservative intellectual tradition for the 20th century, infusing the modern political debate with libertarian/conservative forebears such as Edmund Burke, John Randolph, Hayek, Russell Kirk. And he’s not bad with a pen, either, though he does get a bit showy with the vocab. But what the hell: a charming guy who possesses a pleasing, disarming public persona. But…

He’s got this really annoying habit: he continues to cull together articles and chunks from other books and then markets the collage as a “new book.” I just bought his memoir, Miles Gone By, and it’s traditional Buckley nonfiction: chunks from other books or lengthy and recently published articles attempting to stand as a series of recollections. Once again I find myself rereading things I’d already read in other books. I was hoping for a more personal perspective: his early life and education, his years at boarding school, his service in the Army and in the CIA, his Yale years, how National Review came into existence and its early years, his recollections of the famous and infamous (he was, after all, one of the few hundred people who made it onto the guest list of Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, often described as “the party of the century”). But what do we get? Some cursory beginning chapters devoted to his early life, some lengthy treatments on sailing and other recreational activities he enjoys, some pages on wine, music, and then some recollections of people that, to be honest, I’ve already heard him recollect on. The section on Claire Booth Luce seems to have been borrowed wholesale from On the Firing Line, a fantastic book, to be sure, but a pretty expensive reread, under the circumstances…

Buckley has led a life from which there’s plenty to mine. Why isn’t he doing it?

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