Richard Brookhiser, in "Right Time, Right Place" tells an equally gripping tale of being handpicked as WFB's successor -- only to be later dumped. Rick was 14 when he wrote his first cover story for National Review and his precocity clearly reminded WFB of himself. The story of how their relationship unfolded over time is told, as in Chris Buckley's memoir, straightforwardly and honestly. It was easier to be WFB's protege than his son -- but there were also similarities. Brookhiser relates that Bill's style was to deliver bad news, such as the decision that Rick would not after all be the next editor of National Review, by mail when Bill was safely out of town.
But that painful episode is a small part of a fascinating look back (how does he remember so many details?) at a 30-year friendship and collaboration (a part of which I witnessed firsthand). Rick's personal history with WFB parallels the rise of the conservative movement. And it will not surprise fans of Brookhiser's biographies that this memoir is also a brilliant and beautifully written history of the past several decades. Here, for example, is the way Brookhiser describes the Republican Party circa 1984:
"The Republicans were superficially calmer. ... But because ambition and disagreement never rest, there was a subterranean struggle, as among creatures in the leaf litter on the forest floor, to define what Reaganism meant ..." And here is a biting description of George W. Bush: "(He) spoke badly out of confidence and indifference, believing that whatever he said was said well enough ... He was shorter than his father; when he passed through the crowd shaking hands he moved like a lightweight heading up to the ring for an easy bout, perhaps because it was fixed."
William F. Buckley Jr. was a key figure in American history. His gravitational pull was such that, even now, we cannot get enough of stories about him. Some of the tales in these memoirs are less than hagiographic. It reminds me of the story about Winston Churchill. After repeated episodes of bad behavior on the prime minister's part, his valet got up the courage to tell him off. When Churchill protested that the valet had been rude, he responded, "But you were rude, too." "Yes," Churchill reportedly replied, "but I am a great man."
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