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A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century by [William F. Buckley, James Rosen]
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Editorial Reviews


"Mr. Rosen has mined this abandoned shaft of Buckley prose, excavating glittering ore: 52 obituaries devoted to luminaries from various walks of life—politics, the military, espionage, the world of arts and letters—as well as less prominent but cherished family members and friends. To each profile Mr. Rosen appends his own nicely measured introduction... Mr. Rosen’s selections capture Buckley’s wit and combativeness, as well as his humanity."  
The Wall Street Journal 

“Rarely is a writer’s greatest book published nearly a decade after his death… Buckley’s writing was a torch that illuminated many things — a keen sense of politics, a passion for the arts, a love of friends and family, an unwavering Catholic faith. In editing this anthology, Rosen has guaranteed it will be kept lit for the next generation.”
National Review Online 

A Torch Kept Lit
chronicles the writings of conservative icon William F. Buckley. So if you’re looking for some political definition for yourself, this is the book for you.”
Bill O’Reilly,
The O’Reilly Factor

“William F. Buckley, Jr. was a master of many things.  This collection of obituaries and eulogies that he wrote over the course of his extraordinary career, admirably curated and eloquently introduced by James Rosen, may well establish WFB as the modern master of this literary form.  I have read every single one of my father’s 60-odd books.  I do not exaggerate to propose that this may prove to be William F. Buckley’s finest book ever.”
—Christopher Buckley
"William F. Buckley was both an ideological warrior and a bon vivant with a talent for friendship. He understood that a well-lived life should be simultaneously serious and fun, and that a death calls for a summing up, both measured and elegant. This volume gathers some of Buckley's best eulogies, deftly placed in context by James Rosen. It is a timely gift to a nation much in need of a reminder that one can be fervently engaged in public controversies without being coarse or unforgiving."
—George F. Will
"Compiling the best eulogies written by William F. Buckley is so inspired a concept that many political writers, myself included, will kick ourselves for not having thought of it first. But the idea was James Rosen’s, and he has executed it with skill and affection—and a great reporter’s nose for the story. The result is a work of literary art."
—Carl M. Cannon, Executive Editor, RealClearPolitics
"Acclaimed journalist, author, and Buckleyphile James Rosen has done a masterful job collecting, and contextualizing, these testaments to epic lives of the Twentieth Century by William F. Buckley, Jr. – a figure who indisputably deserves to be counted among them."
—Jonah Goldberg, author, columnist and senior editor, National Review
"William F. Buckley's sketches and vignettes of the prominent people of his time are absolute gems, and so are the introductions by James Rosen. A book to own, to read – and read again."
—Brit Hume, Senior Political Analyst, Fox News Channel

“Colorful…deliciously acerbic…Buckley’s descriptions are succinct, often scathing, sometimes disarmingly tender.”
Boston Globe

"Rosen has done a first-rate job of compiling, selecting, and editing Buckley’s recollections and tributes to the noteworthy deceased. Most impressive, however, are Rosen’s comments setting the stage for each entry. Buckley was an important mentor to young Rosen, as he had been for me a half-generation earlier. Rosen’s personal relationship with Buckley helped him to write with perspective and affection. Some quotes and anecdotes are surely transcriptions of their conversations."
City Journal

"The book is a great trip through the last half of the 20th century, riding first class with William Buckley." 
—The Readers Exchange

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Dwight Eisenhower


From the start, William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review exhibited an oppositional temperament, as captured in the magazine’s opening declaration that it “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” But it was also clear from the outset that those whom WFB intended to Stop were not just liberals but their handmaidens in the Republican Party, the RINOs of the day whose capitulations to liberals, in and out of Congress, contributed to the left’s cultural hegemony. Chief among WFB’s Republican targets at that time was the much-­revered Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even before National Review launched—­in November 1955, roughly midway through Ike’s presidency—­Buckley had begun registering his disappointment with the former Supreme Allied Commander of World War II. In some of his earliest published writing, WFB lamented that there existed between the two major parties an “ephemeral battle line dividing two almost identical streams of superficial thought,” that only “trivia” separated “the 1952 Republican from the 1952 Democrat.” By June 1955, in an article titled “The Liberal Mind,” published in Facts Forum News, Buckley was likening Ike to the sitting Soviet premier:

[W]e know more about the workings of the mind of Nikolai Bulganin than we know about the workings of the mind of Dwight Eisenhower. . . . [T]he life of Bulganin makes sense in a way that the life of Eisenhower does not.

NR’s debut issue also lamented the growth of “a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy.” A decade later, when WFB ran for mayor of New York City, the Republican target of the oppositional temperament would be John V. Lindsay—­but even then, the betrayal of Eisenhower weighed heavily on Buckley, as recorded in The Unmaking of a Mayor (1966):

Even under the moderate Eisenhower—­the Republican exemplar, according to the rules of prevailing opinion—­the registration figures continued to polarize, as they had during the preceding two decades. Two years before the good general came into office, the national registration figures were 45 percent to 33 percent in favor of the Democrats, according to Dr. Gallup. When he left the pulpit, eight years later, the infidels had in fact increased, the figures having separated to 46 percent Democrats and 30 percent Republicans.

What did emerge in the post-­Eisenhower years among Republicans was a hunger for orthodoxy, for an intellectual discipline in the formulation of policy. It was fueled in part by the long diet of blandness that had produced a body lacking in tone and coordination. . . .

WFB’s eulogy was prepared in advance as Eisenhower lay dying.

The accomplishments of Dwight Eisenhower will be copiously recorded now that he is gone, that being the tradition, and tradition being what one has come to associate with General Eisenhower, who comes to us even now as a memory out of the remote past. During his lifetime he had his detractors. There are those who oppose Dwight Eisenhower because he was the man who defeated Adlai Stevenson. In their judgment it was profanation for anyone to stand in the way of Adlai Stevenson. And so, when Eisenhower was inaugurated, they took up, and forever after maintained, a jeremiad on America the theme of which was: America is a horrible country because a banal and boring general with not an idea in his head gets to beat a scintillating intellectual who is in tune with the future. These gentry did President Eisenhower a certain amount of harm, and in later years they took to referring routinely to his tenure as “boring,” “lacking in ideals,” and “styleless.”

Their criticisms never actually took hold. America wanted Eisenhower in preference to Stevenson; and however keenly we felt the death of Stevenson, it wasn’t—­speaking for the majority—­because we had failed to confer the presidency upon him. Stevenson was born to be defeated for the presidency.

Among the critics of Mr. Eisenhower also from the liberal end of the world are a few who reckoned him as quite different from what it is generally supposed that he was. There are those—­one thinks of the singularly acute Mr. Murray Kempton, who all along has led that particular pack—­who saw Mr. Eisenhower as perhaps the most highly efficient political animal ever born in the United States. They believe that his aspect of indifference to practical political matters was one of the most successful dissimulations in political history. He had, they maintain, the most accomplished sense of political danger that any man ever developed, and he always knew—­they maintain—­how to defend himself against the ravages of political decisiveness by a) setting up another guy, who would easily fall victim; and b) appearing to be innocently disinterested in the grinding of political gears.

The record is certainly there, that over a period of a dozen years, it was, somehow, always somebody else who stood between him and the tough decisions: a Sherman Adams, a Richard Nixon, a CIA. General Eisenhower never really developed any mass opposition. His critics were either formalistic (the Democratic Party); or personal—­men who held him responsible not for what he did, but for what he failed to do.

It is I think this category of critics of the General which is the most interesting. Not the liberals, but the conservatives. It is hardly a surprise that liberals would have faulted Eisenhower’s performance as president, they having so hotly desired the election of another man. But the conservatives, or at least many of them, were genuinely disappointed that he let the federal government grow at a rate no domesticated Democrat could reasonably have exceeded. Disappointed by his failure to take decisive action against the Soviet Union notwithstanding unique historical opportunities, as for instance in Hungary, Egypt, and Cuba. Disappointed by his dismal unconcern with the philosophy of conservatism (of which he was a purely intuitive disciple) at a point in the evolution of America when a few conservative philosophers at his side might have accomplished more for the ends he sought to serve than the battery of sycophantic (and opportunistic) big businessmen with whom he loved to while away the hours.

The critique of General Eisenhower from the right will perhaps be the most interesting historical critique (to use the Army term): and one somehow feels that the General, retired from office, had an inkling of this. Never was he so adamantly and philosophically conservative as when he last addressed the nation, via the Republican Convention at Miami Beach, a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile we are left to mourn the (imminent—­Editors: Please supply if necessary) passing of an extraordinary man, a genius of personal charm, a public servant manifestly infected with a lifetime case of patriotism. His country requited his services. No honor was unpaid to him. If he was, somehow at the margin deficient, it was because the country did not rise to ask of him the performance of a thunderbolt. He gave what he was asked to give. And he leaves us (or “will leave”) if not exactly bereft, lonely; lonely for the quintessential American.


John F. Kennedy


As early as 1957, WFB described John F. Kennedy as an “ideological wraith,” marveling at how the junior senator from Massachusetts had mastered “the art of voting Liberal and appearing conservative.” When, a year later, Senator Kennedy proposed that the United States adopt an “underdog” strategy with the Soviet Union, pursuing diplomacy through disarmament, NR recoiled in “utter amazement”:

[W]e suppose Senator Kennedy was merely making a campaign speech. We hope his dreams of reducing “the [missile] gap” by reliance on calls for disarmament are not unduly disturbed by memories of a book he once wrote. The title was Why England Slept [1940].

During the 1960 election, WFB again scored JFK for weakness on foreign policy, anticipating the themes later to inform David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest (1972): “The most educated men in our midst and the most highly-­trained—­and those who trained the Kennedys—­have not been understanding the march of history, in which [Fidel] Castro is a minor player, though at the moment great shafts of light converge upon him and give him a spectacular brilliance.” After the Bay of Pigs, NR condemned Kennedy’s “contemptible” inaction, arguing that it “left . . . ​700 brave Cubans to die, and 6 million others to live in slavery.” Nor did Buckley believe the USSR had “blinked” in the Cuban Missile Crisis: “President John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, has formally given our bitterest enemy a pledge that we will enforce the nonenforcement of the Monroe Doctrine! . . . How can it be maintained that we have won a great victory when Khrushchev is, in October, ahead of where he was in May?”

Kennedy took note of his erudite critic. Upon receiving his honorary degree from Yale in June 1962, the president told the graduates he was “particularly glad to become a Yale man because as I think about my troubles, I find that a lot of them have come from other Yale men . . . ​not to mention William F. Buckley, Jr., of the class of 1950.”

With JFK’s death, WFB found himself, rhetorically, in a tight spot: He had to acknowledge the intense mourning, yet he also felt compelled to remind his readers that JFK was a real, and controversial, person and that the conservative challenge to the Kennedy program needed, perforce, to be carried to his successor. WFB penned two JFK eulogies, the first somewhat rushed, presumably produced on tight deadline, and the second longer, more thoughtful—­and more barbed.

“J.F.K., 1917–­1963”

National Review, December 10, 1963.

The grief was spontaneous and, in most cases, wholly sincere. Not because Mr. Kennedy’s policies were so universally beloved, but because he was a man so intensely charming, whose personal vigor and robust enjoyment of life so invigorated almost all who beheld him. The metabolism of the whole nation rose on account of the fairyland quality of the First Family. After all, no divine typecaster could have done better than to get JFK to play JFK, Jackie to play the First Lady, and the children to play themselves.

The assassination of President Kennedy was the act presumably of a madman, heir to the madmen who killed Lincoln and McKinley and, for that matter, Christ, reminding us that the beasts are always with us, and that they continue to play decisive roles in history, and in human affairs.

Even his most adamant political opponents acknowledged the personal courage Mr. Kennedy showed during his young and dazzling lifetime. Now, no doubt, he would desire that his countrymen also act heroically, by enduring their grief; and by demonstrating to his bereaved family not only their compassion, but also their fortitude.

“The Morning After”

National Review, December 17, 1963.

Norman Mailer, reviewing Victor Lasky’s book on John Kennedy several weeks ago for the New York Herald Tribune, remarked that Kennedy’s political genius rested in his apprehension of the main point in American politics towards the close of the ’50s, namely, that the American people were ready, in Mailer’s words, to turn away from the father image (Eisenhower), and accept as ruler someone cast in the role of the young hero; someone in the Hollywood image, as Mailer put it.

Mailer seems to have been right, as he very often is. What happened, two and one-­half weeks ago, was the Morte d’Arthur. The grief was that of a nation that had lost a young king, a young king whose own fairyland rise to power recapitulated the national experience; whose personal radiance warmed the whole nation—­and whose great failures were charitably disregarded, for were we not, really, forgiving ourselves? And are we not, really, grieving for ourselves? “A part of me has gone with him,” one orator said, and a great chorus responded to the theme: and they are all exactly correct, they have lost a part of themselves. Much of America, the intelligentsia especially, succeeded in anthropomorphizing itself in the image of John Kennedy, whereon it had to follow that when he lay bleeding, they lay bleeding; and that the great ache, the anxiety expressed so effusively, lay in the numbing realization that though their king was dead, they were still alive, and would have to learn again to act for themselves. And, God help us, to think for themselves.

For it gives one the grues. The assassination itself, yes, obviously. We know what death is, and what evil is in the twentieth century. We live with violence, and apocalypse is camped just over the horizon. We have lived with violent endings, for individuals, and for nations, and for whole races. We know the unyielding finality of death, and one’s helplessness before recurrent acts of individual and collective depravity. But what is this other thing that seems to be going on? Pay the man all the many compliments to which he is entitled, and sing the praises he is due. But not all this, no indeed; and for the reason, first among the others, that it tends to undermine those qualities in national life that John Kennedy at his best exemplified: courage, dignity, fortitude, toughmindedness, independence.

The rhetoric has gone quite out of control. The symbol of our emotional, if not neurotic excess, is the Eternal Flame at Arlington, a few hundred yards from the shrines we built to the memories of George Washington (86 years after he died), Thomas Jefferson (117 years), and Abraham Lincoln (57 years); who have no eternal flames. The lovely and tormented Mrs. Kennedy needs a gentle hand lest in her understandable grief, she give the air of the Pharaoh, specifying his own magnitude.

John F. Kennedy lived a life of tough controversy, and while it is correct that an individual’s weaknesses should be buried with him, it is not ever possible to bury the public issues on which a public figure committed himself. Mr. Kennedy told us the fight would last beyond his lifetime; and his successor has pledged himself on the same side of those policies. It is sobering to recall that there was great dissension, left and right, in respect of John Kennedy’s policies, right up until the moment he died. The issue of Time magazine dated the awful day of the assassination carried, for instance, the news of a growing campus “disenchantment” with President Kennedy’s policies, “now spread far and wide.” “At conservative Georgia Tech,” said Time, “the complaint is that ‘he’s interfering with my personal life’ through Big Government. At liberal Reed, where ‘he doesn’t inspire respect as Stevenson did,’ the gripe is Kennedy’s caution on the civil rights bill. At exuberant Wisconsin, ‘he’s liked in a negative way,’ faulted for lack of political conviction.” The restlessness, as we see, was not partisan, not only from the Right.

Are we now being emotionally stampeded into believing that Kennedy was the incarnation, and that respect for him requires that we treat his program like the laws of the Medes and the Persians? What we need is a period of dignified mourning for a graceful human being who passed through our midst with style and energy, a mourning more intense in virtue of the treachery of his end; but less intense than that which degenerates into abject pity for ourselves, or that asks that we place our personal grief above the best interests of our country as we understand them; which interests many people thought of as calling for the retirement of Mr. Kennedy from public life one year from now. Jack Kennedy wouldn’t want a caterwauling public besotted by its own tears for its own self, or accepting his program for sentimentality’s sake. He asked us to keep the torch lit. And that means work, each one of us according to his own lights, to keep this country at least as strong and as free, stronger, we can hope, and freer, than it was when John F. Kennedy last knew it.

Product details

  • Print Length : 310 pages
  • Publication Date : October 4, 2016
  • Publisher : Crown Forum (October 4, 2016)
  • File Size : 4620 KB
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • ASIN : B01AES54F8
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN : 1101906219
  • Text-to-Speech : Enabled
  • Language: : English
  • Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
  • Screen Reader : Supported
  • X-Ray : Enabled
  • Lending : Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
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