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Living on Fire: The Life of L. Brent Bozell Jr. Hardcover – January 31, 2014
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[A] lucid and compassionate biography . . . Kelly [is] a well-credentialed historian and biographer.”
Beautifully moving . . . nearly brought me to tears. . . . Kelly’s writing is clear and wonderfully fluid, and the book moves briskly. . . . We are grateful that Kelly has written this outstanding biography. Bozell is one of the great, unsung figures of 20th-century American history, and his passionate, merciful life is one worth knowing.”
The American Conservative
A sympathetic and briskly readable account that is candid about its subject’s personal torments and failure of promise.”
Living on Fire would make an incredible movie.”
The American Spectator
A delightfully readable and analytically acute biography of a figure central to the founding of the conservative movement.”
Rich Lowry, editor ofNational Review
Poignant . . . We had to wait a long time for a biography of Brent Bozell, but Living on Fire has, beautifully and insightfully, made the wait worthwhile.”
The story of L. Brent Bozell Jr. is an American story, a big American story, and one that should be more widely known. Thanks to Dan Kelly, it will be. . . . In this absorbing and moving account, Kelly tells the full story of Brent Bozell, both the early triumphs and the heartbreaking stumbles.”
Neal B. Freeman, from the foreword to Living on Fire
In the latest of ISI’s rightly praised series of conservative biographies, Daniel Kelly offers a beautifully written and moving portrait of L. Brent Bozell Jr. The story of Bozell’s rise, fall, and final triumph as a holy fool’ among the poor is compellingly told. Living on Fire is a must and inspiring read.”
Lee Edwards, author of Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution
Kelly tells the remarkable story of L. Brent Bozell’s turbulent, crusading career inside and outside the American conservative movement, of the private demons that nearly destroyed him, and of the spiritual tranquility he achieved in the end. Written with discernment and empathy, this is an illuminating and deeply moving book.”
George H. Nash, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945
A wonderful book about an extraordinary person who was essential to the founding of the modern conservative movement. Readers will find it impossible to put down.”
Donald J. Devine, senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, author of America’s Way Back
Living on Fire presents L. Brent Bozell, warts and all, as a fascinating and complex personality. Kelly blends sympathy with cool judgment in describing Bozell’s impact on the lives of those he touched, and the painful ordeal of those who loved him most.”
Patrick Allitt, professor of American history at Emory University and author of Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985
This book should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the place of traditionalist thought in late-twentieth-century America.”
Christopher Shannon, assistant professor of history at Christendom College
A good biography of L. Brent Bozell Jr. has been long needed, and our patience has been rewarded with Kelly’s heart-wrenching and inspiring book.”
Donald T. Critchlow, Barry Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University and author of The Conservative Ascendancy
Kelly recounts L. Brent Bozell Jr.’s remarkable story in clear and vivid prose. Kelly writes with great sensitivity about Bozell’s long and ago
About the Author
Daniel Kelly (1938–2012) was the author of James Burnham and the Struggle for the World, a life of L. Brent Bozell’s National Review colleague. A graduate of Yale who earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, he taught history for many years at New York University’s Washington Square College and the City University of New York’s York College.
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Yet above all, he was Catholic, so much so that his Catholicism eventually consumed his conservatism. He founded the journal Triumph and became something of a theocrat. His anti-Americanism was particularly pronounced: America was "a vast moral and spiritual wasteland… [the American credo held that] salvation comes from democracy, education, a nifty standard of living, and a stockpile of nuclear bombs… non-Catholic America is morally disgusting. It is a panorama of evils: gay liberation, women's liberation, pills, pornography, sterility and murdered babies." Such writing alienated Bozell from the conservative movement and eventually caused Triumph's demise.
I had a hard time sympathizing with Bozell. While I agree with many of his ideas, his tone tended to be condescending and pugnacious. Moreover, his ideal of Catholic sovereignty in America was patently unrealistic. Yet as he grew older he also became more human. He struggled mightily with manic depression. And he emerged from this depression as a man of mercy, ardent to carry out Christ's corporal works of mercy to those in need. Not the most cheerful read, but a fascinating study all the same
"Living on Fire" shines a strong light on the life, but increasingly, the stages of dying of a big, big man who took a tumble down a decades-long staircase, with new purpling contusions appearing at every step.
Brent Bozell began his public life as the engine, spark plug, and steering wheel of the resurgent Secular White Right: a passionate anti-Communist, anti-socialist, anti-liberal; a backer not only of Sen. Joseph McCarthy but of Francisco Franco; an enemy not just of the Warren Court but of any post-Marbury-vs-Madison court: in other words, about as right-wing as you can get. He was hugely gifted with many personal strengths: a razor-sharp mind, a gift for oratory and rhetoric, boundless energy, a strong masculine frame and a flair as bright as his hair which could make political patriarchy seem charming and, indeed, utterly compelling.
(On the other hand, many readers, conservative as well as liberal, may also have the sense ---as I did ---of their eyebrows flying up to the back of their heads.)
He carried with him a load of weaknesses and foibles by which he was self-defeated at every step. Even readers who don't sympathize with his early politics would feel themselves heartless if they didn't wince at the string of humiliations self-imposed on him by financial collapse, political failure, intellectual impasses and relationship woes. His energy was first fueled, then sabotaged by alcohol; by mid-life he was hell-hounded by bipolar disorder.
In the words of his son, L. Brent Bozell III, spoken at his father's eulogy: his suffering family (wife Trish Buckley Bozell and ten children) had to deal with crisis after crisis involving "arrests and forced hospitalizations, escapes and re-arrests and re-commitments. There was the never-ending parade of lawyers, police, doctors, and, yes, from time to time the State Department was on the line to brief us on yet another prospective international upheaval caused by this very unpredictable man. "
In his inspired but erratic middle years, he had attained to a type of red-hot Roman Catholicism which produced "Triumph" magazine, in some ways incandescent and in some ways a smouldering wick like himself; and he was one of the indispensable co-founders of the March for Life and of the wonderful one-of-a-kind Christendom College.
But it is the end of the story that seals the deal --- and I mean, Sealed in the Spirit. After "many dangers, toils and snares," Brent Bozell, his body wrecked and his mind a brocaded but tattered banner, aspired to the very highest things: humility and Divine Compassion.
Bozell repudiated loveless politics, and became a virtuoso of the Works of Mercy. For years he visited common criminals at the Lorton Penitentiary simply to pray for them and with them, and to love them. He volunteered at Mother Teresa's DC Aids Hospice. He founded a ragtag little outfit called "Mision Guadalupe" to give assistance to Latino immigrants (and "legal" or "illegal" was a question that somehow never came up). He ladled stew for homeless men at a Soup Kitchen just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building which he had previously stormed with so little effect.
In a paradoxical way and by an entirely different route, he ended up at about the same place as the Catholic Worker's famously Left-wing Dorothy Day. He had cut every attachment to the deceptive "Glory of This World." For the sake of Christ the King, he served Christ the Poor. Like Dorothy Day --- how they must be presently roaring with laughter in each others' friendship! --- he has died, and is hidden with Christ in God.
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If you're feeling like a failure, read this.
Brent Bozell was a great man and a true Catholic.