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A man in full!
on June 28, 2009
Brookhiser is a very gifted writer who avoids here both petty score-settling and its opposite, idolatry. First encountering William F. Buckley when Buckley's National Review ran a piece (as a cover story!) that the then 14 year old Brookhiser had submitted, the book relates the often difficult relationship that began as proxy child/father and evolved through the years into one of being equals.
Brookhiser walks a real tightrope here, being unsparringly honest, noting Buckley's flaws and weaknesses while not neglecting so much about the man that made him such a singular figure. The end result is a balanced and therefore very accesible account of a very real man. In telling his story about Buckley as he does Broohiser tells us much about himself as well. Deeply bitter about Buckley's having promised him that he'd be Buckley's successor, then reneging on that promise without warning, Brookhiser continued to work for NR (as he does to this day), in a diminished capacity with his approach to Buckley considerably more cautious. But Brookhiser doesn't let his bitterness consume him or let Buckley's crude handling of the matter poison their relationship in perpetuity. Buckley possessed so many admirable qualities - energy, intelligence, an astonishing generosity - and Broohiser doesn't let his lesser qualities overwhelm them. Forgiveness really is an act of grace.
What strikes you about Right Time, Right Place is the degree to which it is permeated with love, an adult and therefore meaningful love that admits that people are flawed but doesn't get devoured by that fact. It is easy to love a perfect person, much less so one whose flaws can bring pain.
In addition to Buckley, Brookhiser touches on many of the very colorful characters who populated NR through the years, names that are very familiar to those of us who have been long-time readers. James Burnham, Bill Rusher, Gary Wills, Joe Sobran and many of the others from NR's past are dealt with in revealing, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing portraits. Brookhiser also deals with and gives insight into a number of the behind-the-scenes policy controversies that are so important to an opinion journal like NR: the Panama Canal, the Soviets, tax cuts.
The only quibble I have is that Brookhiser never fully resolves the other theme of the book: his lifelong quest for a father figure. The picture he draws of his own father is one of a man perhaps no better but realistically no worse than any of our fathers. He does come to recognize this after his falling out with Buckley but even in his more mature years when he becomes enamoured of the historical George Washington, he is still looking for that perfect father figure. The genesis of that search remains elusive.
Right Time, Right Place is a beautifully written work that should be of interest to anyone curious about the history of the last fifty years, is intrigued by big personalities on big stages or who like to see how love can make us better people.