WFB Bio, James Madison & Post-Harry Potter

Terry Teachout finds the most recent William F. Buckley bio (Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatismdisappointing:

Sure enough, Buckley is as fair-minded a study of its subject’s career as you could possibly expect from a contributor to The Nation and Tikkun. It deals bluntly but honestly with such difficult topics as his equivocal views on civil rights, and it gives him full credit for having purged the conservative movement of such “loonies” (Buckley’s word) as the members of the John Birch Society. Above all, Bogus recognizes that “Buckley and his colleagues changed America’s political realities,” both by making conservatism intellectually and socially respectable and by turning the GOP into something not far removed from a genuine conservative party.

But Buckley is too soberly written to be of interest to the average reader, and the only full-scale biography, John B. Judis’s William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of Conservatives (1988), is both outdated and overly partisan. The best thing published so far about Buckley is Richard Brookhiser’s Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr., and the Conservative Movement (2009), a sympathetic, at times startlingly candid memoir that describes him more vividly than anything other than Buckley’s own autobiographical volumes, of which Cruising Speed: A Documentary(1971) is the first and best. What is now needed is an up-to-date biography written by someone with the twin gifts of literary portraiture and historical perspective. This, alas, isn’t it.

Frustrating because I was looking forward to reading it (and probably still will).

Speaking of Richard Brookhiser, Richard Beeman finds his bio of James Madison worth reading:

The amount of scholarship chronicling these events is immense, and although Brook­hiser is somewhat sparing in acknowledging his debts to historians who have preceded him, his sprightly narrative will serve as an entertaining introduction for those who are making their first acquaintance with Madison. Moreover, Brookhiser’s book is a useful corrective to some of the recent works in the fields of political science and law that place excessive emphasis on Madison the theorist.

For more on Brookhiser from my perspective, see the related articles links below.

And from a completely different perspective, Eloisa James brings a book to my attention (Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact By A. J. HARTLEY) that I think will be added to the ever-growing TBR pile:

Post Harry Potter, we can all sketch the outlines of a paranormal private school novel. Darwen Arkwright is a far odder and more creative addition to the genre than I have read in years. Darwen has powers of a sort…but he also has the ability to behave like a bumbler, like a dunce, like a grieving boy. The book never relies on paranormal flourishes alone to carry the reader’s interest. A. J. Hartley shows an uncanny, brilliant ability to shape the inner life of an unmoored child, who realizes that the worst thing of all is that there’s no one to be disappointed in him.

This sounds like a great fit for me and a potential read aloud book for my daughter.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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