Review: Strictly Right
An affectionate portrait? It's light reconnaissance at 500 yards.
Michael Ubaldi, August 23, 2008.
William F. Buckley is here and there in Strictly Right. Beginning with what its dust jacket promises ("an affectionate portrait") the book, halfway through, first sheds fresh or exclusive information, then primary sources, then any coherent narrative on Buckley altogether — ending in weirdly detached conjecture by authors whose orbit from the founder of National Review and patron of modern rightism was close, but not that close.
The drift would be OK if "the American Conservative Movement" were more than a subtitle. As the book progresses, biography is substituted by generic history, borrowed-interest anecdotes, and brittle gossip. The worst offense comes when the authors — who apparently personally dislike Alfonse D'Amato — take an opportunity to denigrate the former senator as they recount editorial lunches. Fair enough if they don't care for Al. But where does Buckley figure on that page? He is . . . referenced.
Strictly Right is an unsuccessful try at a difficult task. There's a characteristic noted by most who have written about Buckley, which is that Buckley was by all appearances hardworking, focused, private, and a little impersonal. He inclined not to biography but bibliography: fiction; nonfiction; commentary, in print and on television. Even in writing his many, touching eulogies, Buckley focused on the subject rather than on himself. Faced with that kind of reticence, biographers have had to search; or like these authors, really strain.
For those who wish to know the man, you can find William F. Buckley in the work of William F. Buckley. At the very least you won't find him in this book.
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