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Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind Hardcover – October 20, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

At the end of this laudatory study, Person notes that when several leading conservatives were asked who the greatest progenitors of modern conservatism were, all named Russell Kirk (1918^-94), whose Conservative Mind (1953; 7th ed., 1986) was the foundational text of the post^-World War II conservative revival. Kirk, the son of a railroad engineer and a homemaker, wrote the book after quitting Michigan State in disgust with the university's promotion of sports and career training at the expense of the liberal arts curriculum. Subsequently, he pursued a career in writing and lecturing on politics, literature (including a major book on his friend T. S. Eliot), academic freedom, and economics. He also wrote supernatural fiction informed by his Catholic faith, married in middle age, fathered four daughters, and opened the large, old family house to a small platoon of students and people who needed shelter. Person surveys and analyzes Kirk's writings and thought with such enthusiasm and so appealingly that many readers may conclude that another conservative revival is devoutly to be wished for. Ray Olson

From Kirkus Reviews

A concise, lucid tour of the writings and wide-ranging ideas of the American regarded in many quarters as ``the founder of the modern conservative movement.'' Person (Senior Editor, Gale Research) argues, however, that Russell Kirk (1918-94) should be viewed not as an ideologue but as a man of letters. It's true that his 1953 study The Conservative Mind identified a line of conservative thought stretching back to 18th-century England, isolated certain social and political theories that could be termed ``conservative,'' and asserted the continuing relevance of a coherent body of thought opposed to large government and insisting on the moral primacy (and responsibilities) of the individual. But Kirk, Person points out, steered clear of any deep involvement in Republican politics. He was, first and foremost, a writer, producing during a lengthy career ``32 books, 800 essays, book reviews, and articles, and more than 3,000 newspaper and magazine columns.'' His books, some of them pugnacious in their historical assertions and contemporary criticisms, included biographies (Edmund Burke), histories (The Roots of American Order), literary and social criticism (Enemies of the Permanent Things, Eliot and His Age), political theory (A Program for Conservatives), and critiques of contemporary education (Decadence and Renewal in the Higher Learning). Person devotes chapters to each of these areas, explicating Kirk's theories in these fields while stressing the extent to which each was part of an ambitious attempt to apply conservative principles to most elements of social life. A brief but admiring sketch of Kirk's life stresses the extent to which he practiced the humane conservatism he preached. The subtitle is somewhat confusing: This is not so much a biography of a conservative's thoughts as a thoughtful analysis of the arguments advanced in each of Kirk's major books. Given Kirk's influence on the concepts that many contemporary conservatives claim to embrace, his work will surely continue to be both influential and controversial. Person offers an excellent guide to his legacy. (15 b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Madison Books; 1 edition (October 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568331312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568331317
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Raymond Banner on February 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Russell Kirk (1918-1994) was a man of letters and a leader among traditional conservative writers and commentators. From his village home in Mecosta, Michigan he turned out scores of books, essays, articles and reviews on the history of political philosophy and on contemporary education, literary criticism, social/cultural criticism and economics. He even wrote short stories and novels in the gothic--ghost story genre. James E. Person, Jr., author of this volume, presents a brief biographical summary of Kirk's life and then discusses the various facets of Kirk's writings and philosophy. This volume should serve as an especially good introduction for those unfamiliar with Kirk. For those, such as myself, who have read
some of Kirk's books and other writings, it offers a good perspective on the entire Kirk canon. Those readers who are well acquainted with Kirk and his work can find here a helpful review. It includes a selected bibliography of Kirk's main writings and also a selected bibliography of other sources Person used in preparing this study of Kirk.
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Format: Hardcover
Russell Kirk (1918-1994) was probably the premier conservative "man of letters" in 20th century America. He first gained national attention in 1953 with his publication of the CONSERVATIVE MIND. Kirk was the author of a large number of works, including history, literary criticism, cultural analysis, fiction, and even an economics textbook.

A central problem with understanding Kirk is the somewhat opaque nature of his writings. While it's easy to see what Kirk is against, it isn't always easy to see why, or what his solution to current political and cultural problems was. Perhaps because of this, Kirk is seldom quoted these days, and there hasn't been much in the way of secondary studies on his thought.

James Person has written a reliable overview of Kirk's thought (which also contains a modest biography of sorts). Person organizes this work thematically, hitting on the key areas of Kirk's thought (including discussions of his fiction, as well). My only gripe is that the book could have used a bit more editing. Sentences tend to drag on, and some of the writing is a bit "chatty" for a scholarly work. (Mr. Person hasn't heard of Orwell's rule about not using two words when one will do.)

In light of the current "conservative wars" I found portions of this book (published in 1999) quite interesting. I didn't know that Kirk's last foray into politics was in 1992 when he was chairman of Pat Buchanan's Michigan campaign. It's not surprising that Kirk is ignored by the neocon nitwits who run the conservative movement today. There is also an interesting story about how Kirk was attacked by certain Straussian neocons concerning his criticisms of Lincoln. Although Kirk disagreed with much of Lincoln's agenda, he called Lincoln a "conservative" and a "great man." Much to the consternation of the neocons, anything less than total support of King Abraham wasn't good enough.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who is interested in conservatism must read this biography of the man who articulated the conservative philosophy in post WWII America.
This book is well written, well researched and is a good read.
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