There is a certain bittersweet aspect to reading Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater. It is the last book William F. Buckley wrote, or at least that was ready or publication – he was working on a book on Reagan when he passed, and at the same time to it looks back to what was in many ways the the political dawn of the conservative movement. Those seem like heady days compared the troubles of today.
The fact that it is a very personal account, and a sort of novelization, ads to this feeling. This isn’t straight history but rather a remembrance: Buckley attempting to capture his friend not just the historical figure. As such it tells the reader about both Goldwater and Buckley and their relationship. That doesn’t mean there isn’t history involved just that it is a particular perspective and description of the history they both witnessed and participated in.
As such it is a quick and enjoyable read with the typical WFB style and wit. With a few flash forwards interspersed, Buckley basically tells the story of how Goldwater came to be seen as the candidate which would allow the conservative wing of the GOP to take control of the party and offer a full throated conservative as the party’s candidate. He details how the conservatives centered around his magazine, National Review, played a critical role in bringing this about and how they were eventually cut out of the campaign by Goldwater’s top advisers. Along the way Buckley attempts to give readers insight into the Goldwater he came to know and how their relationship developed and survived the stress and strains of the campaign and its aftermath.
This is not an ideal volume for students seeking to get the basic facts but rather an enjoyable look back for fans of either man; or those acquainted with the larger history of conservatism and American politics. And that is only appropriate as Buckley was not a historian but rather a unique combination of prose stylist, conservative polemicist (and populiser), and larger-than-life personality. All of these characteristics are present in Flying High.
This volume is an obvious must have for Buckley and Goldwater fans, but it is also an interesting look at the intersection of the conservative movement and American politics. Anyone with an interest in either topic will enjoy this short but unique read.