- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press (May 2, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300163843
- ISBN-13: 978-0300163841
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. Hardcover – May 2, 2017
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The second part describes how he rose to become the intellectual leader of the conservative movement, starting with God and Man at Yale. At a time when most Americans thought of Eisenhower as an archetypal “conservative,” Buckley strongly opposed him and his allies as New Deal liberals. The National Review and The Firing Line helped shape the conservative movement that produced Nixon and Reagan. His acerbic, insult-laden style also seems to have shaped the conservative movement in less attractive ways, though Felzenberg does not explore that.
After Reagan, the book presents Buckley’s views on events of the day. This section was not at all well constructed into a narrative, and did not pull out general principles guiding Buckley. It read a bit like the author rushing to produce a book by deadline.
Felzenberg is a big fan of Buckley, while also willing to criticize him. He recognizes Buckley’s inconsistency over the years, and cases where partisanship produces hypocrisy. The largest example of these inconsistencies is Buckley’s “theory” of the relationship between the elite and the masses in governance. Oversimplifying, Buckley tended to support popular sovereignty when the masses were conservative, but argued for rule by elites when that elite was conservative.
Similarly, I think Felzenberg could have been more attuned to partisanship trumping ideology throughout the book. For example, Buckley believes G. W. Bush on the Iraq War, at least for a while, but he refrains from savaging Bush’s mistakes in the way that he would have savaged Clinton or Obama (or a counterfactual President Gore).
In addition, Felzenberg doesn’t fact-check Buckley’s predictions. For example, Buckley predicted dire economic events under Clinton, which don’t happen. He also predicted strong economies under G. H. W. Bush and G. W. Bush, which also mostly did not happen - pick your economic indicators and compare those three administrations.
That said, this is a well-researched and well-written book. It brings together the many aspects of William F. Buckley’s career in a way that is balanced enough to help readers reach their own conclusions.
Hardly a paean to Buckley. The reader can enjoy as Buckley morphs from full-on arch-conservative to a more pragmatic America protector. His interactions and connections with the various presidents facilitates continuity of the book which provides, I think, some new insights into Buckley and his beliefs. I found it fascinating.