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The New York Times BestsellerWilliam F. Buckley, Jr. remembers—as only he could—the towering figures of the twentieth century in a brilliant and emotionally powerful collection, compiled by acclaimed Fox News correspondent James Rosen.In a half century on the national stage, William F. Buckley, Jr. achieved unique stature as a writer, a celebrity, and the undisputed godfatThe New York Times BestsellerWilliam F. Buckley, Jr. remembers—as only he could—the towering figures of the twentieth century in a brilliant and emotionally powerful collection, compiled by acclaimed Fox News correspondent James Rosen.In a half century on the national stage, William F. Buckley, Jr. achieved unique stature as a writer, a celebrity, and the undisputed godfather of modern American conservatism. He kept company with the best and brightest, the sultry and powerful. Ronald Reagan pronounced WFB “perhaps the most influential journalist and intellectual in our era,” and his jet-setting life was a who’s who of high society, fame, and fortune. Among all his distinctions, which include founding the conservative magazine National Review and hosting the long-running talk show Firing Line, Buckley was also a master of that most elusive art form: the eulogy. He drew on his unrivaled gifts to mourn, celebrate, or seek mercy for the men and women who touched his life and the nation. Now, for the first time, WFB’s sweeping judgments of the great figures of his time—presidents and prime ministers, celebrities and scoundrels, intellectuals and guitar gods—are collected in one place. A Torch Kept Lit presents more than fifty of Buckley’s best eulogies, drawing on his personal memories and private correspondences and using a novelist’s touch to conjure his subjects as he knew them. We are reintroduced, through Buckley’s eyes, to the likes of Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley and John Lennon, Truman Capote and Martin Luther King, Jr.Curated by Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen, a Buckley protégé and frequent contributor to National Review, this volumes heds light on a tumultuous period in American history—from World War II to Watergate, the “death” of God to the Grateful Dead—as told in the inimitable voice of one of our most elegant literary stylists.William F. Buckley, Jr. is back—just when we need him most....

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a torch kept lit great lives of the twentieth century Reviews

  • Charles
    2019-01-16 15:27

    Of late, I have noticed much creeping, or rather galloping, nostalgia among National Review-type conservatives. Such nostalgia is doubtless a reaction to the current Trumpian trials of High Conservatism, whose leading lights must feel much like the characters in Toy Story 3, holding hands as they are fed into a fiery furnace. (The Toy Story characters survive, which probably distinguishes them from today’s leaders of High Conservatism.) “A Torch Kept Lit” offers a triple dose of nostalgia: William F. Buckley; eulogies of dead conservatives (and others); and a deep view of a dead time. And, like a papyrus scroll listing grain shipments on the Nile, it is redolent of ancient history, when High Conservatism mattered.The blurb for “A Torch Kept Lit” promises that “William F. Buckley, Jr. is back—just when we need him most.” This fantasy, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with today’s High Conservatism. Buckley is not back. He will never be back. He has joined the Church Triumphant. But if he were back, he would answer no need we have today. He was a man for his time, and not for our time. His brand of urbane, sophisticated conservatism, predicated on mutual respect among adversaries, on the existence of the rule of law, on shared values, on a belief that denying reality was disqualifying, and on the desirability of reasoned discourse, has no place where none of these things are true. What we DO need now is less clear, for no clear path forward or back exists, and so, to the dismay of Dr. Seuss, we inhabit the Waiting Place, “a most useless place.”Why Buckley would have no impact today can be encapsulated in one non-political experience. I read much of this book while waiting in line in a federal government office (a customs office, for an interview for the Global Entry traveler program). Let’s leave aside the arrogant, peremptory manner of the federal employees, who (while working with modest efficiency) made very clear who were the Rulers and who were the Ruled. The waiting room was full and the wait was long. CNN Headline News was playing. We, and all of America, were eagerly informed about (a) a child who drove a car, avoiding an accident; (b) a man who took selfies after being attacked by a bear; (c) a fiery truck crash where the cargo, cookies, were baked; and many other such “news” stories, liberally larded with offensively unintelligent advertisements. That such tripe is demanded by consumers of news tells us why Buckley would, like Dostoevsky’s Christ, not be welcomed back today.Buckley himself early pointed out the trend in this direction. In his thoughts on the death of Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1962, Buckley quoted James Burnham, summarizing Mrs. Roosevelt’s long postwar career. “Over whatever subject, plan, or issue Mrs. Roosevelt touches, she spreads a squidlike ink of directionless feeling. All distinctions are blurred, all analysis fouled, and in the murk clear thought is forever impossible.” Buckley concludes that her epitaph should read, “With all my heart and soul, I fought the syllogism.” That’s about right. Nobody today values the syllogism. Pretty much nobody even knows what a syllogism is. And that’s the problem, for Buckley’s entire life was built around the syllogism, as this book shows.I don’t mean my negativity to reflect on this excellent book. After all, there is nothing wrong with nostalgia, if we do not allow ourselves to be lost in it. And, not infrequently, we can find in the past facts or reasoning that can help us today. Even if we find nothing directly useful, we can be amused, such as by Buckley’s comment (not in a eulogy, but noted by the book’s editor, James Rosen) about Lyndon Johnson, “It is widely known that whenever Senator Johnson feels the urge to act the statesman at the cost of little political capital, he lies down until he gets over it.” Buckley’s eulogies are full of such pithy phrases, as well as more sonorous ones.Echoes, or forebodings, of today’s travails can also be found in Buckley’s eulogies. For example, in his eulogy of Ronald Reagan, Buckley notes “how reassuring it was for us [to listen to] the Leader of the Free World who, to qualify convincingly as such, had after all to feel a total commitment to the Free World.” One can only wonder what Buckley would make of Barack Obama—a man who has only contempt for America, and thinks its only value is to atone for its unique sins by abasing itself. No wonder Obama reassures not at all, and fails to qualify convincingly both as the leader of America and of the Free World—he has no commitment to either.None of these eulogies are hagiographies. Most political figures in this book, even allies, come in for some criticism, or at least an acknowledgement of their failings. For example, in 1965, Buckley knocked Winston Churchill: “It was Churchill who pledged a restored Europe, indeed a restored world order after the great war. He did not deliver us such a world.” Buckley blamed Churchill, in part, for “a world in which more people are slaves [today] than were slaves in the darkest hours of the Battle of Britain,” resulting, in part, from Churchill’s behavior at the end of the war toward Stalin. And Buckley ends his eulogy, “May he sleep more peacefully than some of those who depended on him.” Tough stuff.The most poignant eulogies are of Buckley’s friends, such as the liberal Allard Lowenstein, killed by a deranged acquaintance in 1980. “His days, foreshortened, lived out the secular dissonances. ‘Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long, and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.’ . . . Let Nature then fill this vacuum. That is the challenge which, bereft, the friends of Allard Lowenstein hurl up to Nature, and to Nature’s God, prayerfully, demandingly, because today, Lord, our loneliness is great.”Our loneliness is also great, though for different reasons. High Conservatism, like Buckley, is dead, though presumably Buckley realizes it, and National Review does not, yet. But despair, as Buckley was fond of noting, is a sin, and a great one. We cannot see what is next. Like Theoden King, we say to, and ask, ourselves: “The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?” And like Theoden, not knowing what the future holds, our task must be therefore merely to gird ourselves for an uncertain and unknown battle, such that we may be both ready for any challenge, and able to strike in any direction.

  • David Huff
    2018-12-31 14:20

    How outstanding it would've been to be one of William F. Buckley's luminary friends, and have him write an eloquent obituary for me! .... although, I'd not have gotten to read it, so ... perhaps not ....In any event, I have long been a fan and admirer of WFB, and this collection of obituaries and memorial tributes he penned for various friends, acquaintances, and even some adversaries, is a thoroughly enjoyable read. As with anything Buckley, you'll find wit, humor, pointed comments, and a healthy portion of warm, even emotional, remembrances. This volume, finely edited and previewed by James Rosen, was like a guided tour through many avenues of 20th century history, politics, arts, and culture, led by a true renaissance man who was firmly ensconced in the middle of it all.One of my favorite quotes had to be WFB's observation of Ayn Rand, of whom he clearly was not a disciple:"I had met Miss Rand three years before that review was published. Her very first words to me (I do not exaggerate) were: "You ahrr too intelligent to believe in Gott". The critic Wilfrid Sheed once remarked, when I told him the story, "Well, that certainly is an icebreaker." It was; and we conversed, and did so for two or three years. I used to send her postcards in liturgical Latin; but levity with Miss Rand was not an effective weapon."A great collection of great writing and insight, by a master of his craft. Highly recommended!

  • Rory Lewellyn
    2019-01-12 15:18

    A nice, succinct education in an interesting period of our history. Who knew you could learn from eulogies?

  • William
    2019-01-11 10:14

    This book, a collection of eulogies and obituaries written by William F. Buckley, Jr., was enjoyable because of Buckley's writing style, his wealth of anecdotes, the fact that it touches on the lives of notable and sometimes obscure Americans, and it reminds us of a time when people could disagree with each other and still have respect for a life well lived. I should also say that just about the time you're ready to give up on this, you get to the pieces about his adversaries, when it gets really good. He usually has something generous to say, and if not, it's usually pretty funny.

  • Dallin Perry
    2018-12-23 12:32

    One of the more enjoyable, well-written books I've read in a long time. I would recommend this book to all comers.

  • Western
    2019-01-11 13:23

    It's a tough time to be a conservative intellectual in this country given the current right-wing regime's Khmer Rouge-like opposition to facts, science, and critical thinking. I wonder what Buckley would make of the Republican party in 2017. This collection, of all things a cross-section of obituaries and eulogies, gives us more insight into the life and intellectual development of its author than his subjects. What's interesting about Buckley is that he was utterly inflexible when it came to his core beliefs, without the least hint of self-doubt when it came to the unquestionable evil of Communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular or the failure of the welfare state. For an educated, cosmopolitan man to hold such views with reflexive, almost religious self-assurance is highly interesting. He also had no time for sentiment or respect for the dead. He has absolutely no hangups about using the occasion of Eleanor Roosevelt's death as an opportunity to argue (not without reason) that she was, in as many words, a big dumb stupid. But he also especially late in life was perfectly willing to make friends and write kindly about people from the other side of the political aisle, assuming they met his rather arbitrary, patrician social standards. A fascinating man, and clearly a relic. The version of conservatism he championed died with him. If anything this book made me nostalgic for a time when political operators at least maintained the appearance that they cared about being gentlemen.

  • Nick Gibson
    2018-12-31 10:20

    A collection of Buckley's eulogies and obituaries. Reveals just how much of a socialite the Buckleys were, and how broad their circle of friends was in terms of ideology. Hard to imagine today. WFB's ability to perceive and describe the unique characteristics of a person is impressive, and inspires me to be more studious of the people in my life. Another takeaway from this book is the fleeting quality of fame. So many of these people were considered important figures in their day, and are now almost wholly forgotten. Man knows not his time.

  • Sherman Langford
    2018-12-29 14:21

    Kurt Vonnegut called Buckley "a man who has won the decathlon of human existence". A patrician par excellence, he rubbed shoulders with an unbelievable array of 20th century luminaries. He was expert in the art of friendship. He had a gift for the form of eulogy and a writing style is inimitable. So the book was a very engaging read, a wonderful history lesson, in brief eminently consumable bites. And evoking for me all the emotions and solemnity that a collection of eulogies should.

  • Kevin
    2019-01-18 13:30

    A wonderful collection of WFB eulogies/obituaries. Reminds you of his unique style and wit but also his historic role in American public life. His personal interactions and historic perspective make each of these fascinating and informative. A must read obviously for Buckley fans but a great gift for those who simply enjoy great writing and historic personalities.

  • Michael G
    2019-01-12 11:19

    A unique and interesting way to learn about many of the great (and not so great) characters of the 20th Century through the entertaining and insightful lens of William F Buckley's eulogies for them. In the process, one learns quite a bit about Buckley, one of those great characters himself.

  • Michael G
    2019-01-17 10:22

    A unique and interesting way to learn about many of the great (and not so great) characters of the 20th Century through the entertaining and insightful lens of William F Buckley's eulogies for them. In the process, one learns quite a bit about Buckley, one of those great characters himself.

  • Julie D.
    2018-12-31 09:20

    When I saw this book, I knew I was going to have to read it. William F. Buckley is one of my favorites but the fact that James Rosen edited it, clinched it for me. I'm a huge James Rosen fan and knew that he would add greatly to this book and I was right. The book is worth reading for the introduction written so well by Mr. Rosen. This is a book of eulogies written by Mr. Buckley for friends and people of note. They are eloquent and informative and make for great reading about some of the well know, and not so well-known, people. The book is divided into six categories - Presidents, Family, Arts and Letters, Generals, Spies, and Statesmen, Friends; and Nemeses. I enjoyed having the eulogies categorized like this as it made for easier reading about certain people. The thing that really stands out to me about the writing of Mr. Buckley is he tried to say only kind and positive things about the people he wrote about. This included those he really didn't care for. It's a very positive thing to see something written like this. It would be nice to see this kind of journalism today.I absolutely love this book and it has a permanent place on my book shelf. I know I will return to this book again and again when I want something great to read. It's a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.*This book was provided to me by the Blogging for Books program

  • Brent Jones
    2019-01-14 14:24

    William F. Buckley  Jr. died in 2008, but a new book has been just released, "A Torch Kept Lit", put together by James Rosen, his editor over many years. It has 50 eulogies that Buckley had wrote. They are presented in 3 main categories. Close friends and family, successful people in general, and then those he didn't like. I found it particularly interesting to read some of those from the "not liked" group". His life long support for his own Catholic Faith never changed and is impressive.  He often expressed his love for the religion.  So many intellectuals are quick to tell you that they are not "believers".  It seems to be a badge of honor for them. The eulogy on Ayn Rand that was reprinted in his new book and is one from his not liked category.  He said that the first time he met Ayn Rand she came up to him at a party and asked him why someone as intelligent as he was believed in God.  He was put off by that but then he mentioned that she also said of herself that "she was the 2nd most influential philosopher next to Aristotle".  She is known for a couple of books which I will mention, Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead.  Buckley mentioned a couple of her quotes and they seem like good ones to go on her tombstone, in my opinion.She said: "Greed is Good, Compassion is Bad". She added: "Capitalism rewards the rich (good) and punishes the poor (even better, cause they deserve it)". (Wow, her books won't be on my recommended reading list)

  • Joe
    2018-12-31 13:08

    An excellent collection of obituaries written by William F. Buckley Jr. mostly written for National Review but some for such diverse publications as the New Yorker. Buckley was well known as a great eulogist and once said you needed two things to write an obituary; know your subject and either love them or hate them. He certainly fulfilled both requirements in this collection.Two of the essays in this collection caught my attention. His obituary of Winston Churchill was surprisingly negative. He blamed Churchill for the Soviet Occupation of Eastern Europe. He didn't mention that Clement Atlee became Prime Minister in July of 1945. Perhaps instead taking Churchill for underestimating Stalin, Buckley should have attacked him for underestimating Atlee. (Churchill once said that Atlee was very modest man who had much to be modest about.) He also mentioned that Martin Luther King Jr. assassin (identity not known at the time) probably shared King's philosophy that personal conscience trump the law. A valid point but one that was not appropriate at the time. Still a great collection of great lives.

  • Stan Shelley
    2019-01-02 09:22

    Honestly this book is worth reading just for the delight of Buckley's prose.In his life William F Buckley wrote about 250 obituaries - mostly for his magazine National Review. I have read that one of Buckley's virtues was that he formed friendships incredibly easily. This is a wonderful trait. Many of the obituaries are for people who were simultaneously dear friends and political opposites. Many of his obits are really classic - like those for Elvis Pressley, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Whitaker Chambers and his mother. Only once did he omit R. I. P. from the title of an obit ...one of the heads of the CIA ... I have forgotten which. And a few obits were honest and harsh such as Jerry Garcia (how many lives were destroyed with his contribution), Arthur Schlesinger Jr (Buckley's 3 sentence review of one of his books is the most devastating imaginable), Ayn Rand, and Eleonore Roosevelt.Many of the obits are for friends and it is really touching how he honors them and lifts them up.This is really a great book.

  • David Bales
    2019-01-17 10:29

    William F. Buckley, Jr. was the eloquent voice of American conservatism from the 1950s until his death in 2008, and this book contains several National Review eulogies that he wrote for the magazines from the 1960s until the first decade of the 2000s. The eulogies are always well-written and elegant, often complimentary and often barbed, (from Eleanor Roosevelt's in 1962: "Mrs. Roosevelt looked at the world as her own personal slum project.") but almost always conciliatory to a point, ("a great lady with a great heart"). Buckley pretty much knew everybody in the world of American and international politics during his era, but sometimes takes a moment to write a eulogy for someone he didn't know, (Jerry Garcia) in a humorous and mystified summing up of the hippie era from whence Garcia came. Here, with commentary from Buckley's biographer, are included eulogies of Winston Churchill, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Norman Mailer, Johnny Carson, John Lennon and many others. Although a liberal, I always liked Buckley's insight and wit and miss his mostly intelligent commentary.

  • Paul
    2019-01-10 16:13

    "A Torch Kept Lit" promised remembrances of great individuals written by an interesting voice and delivered. If I had any complaint it would be that there were too many family members and close associates featured and not more celebrated individuals. If not for that however, the surprise of the book for me would not have come to pass. For, the way it was put together with each eulogy introduced by James Rosen, this was just as much a fascinating biography/autobiography of Buckley.I knew little about him except for watching occasional episodes of "Firing Line" when I was younger. Those both infuriated me because his politics were so different than mine and his way of speaking arrogant sounding, but always fascinated me in listening to his intellect and verbal cadence. Hearing about the man and his other interests and his impressive set of strong and loyal friendships, and family values; I must express my respect for him as a person. Good read!

  • Pauline Barlow
    2019-01-18 15:32

    In " A torch kept Lit" we can visualize and hear the erudite speaker, William F. Buckley Jr. This is a series of obituaries composed by WFB for the conservative "National Review." The editor, James Rosen, who was a Buckley protege, compiled this collection of WFB's writings. Buckley's work is well researched and carefully considered with his strong opinions. He was on "Firing Line" for 33 years...the longest running public affairs show. Rosen was the Washington correspondent for FOX News. Buckley's wit even at times comes across as a literary snob. With his use of $10 words one needs a dictionary when reading his writing. The reader meets his family, presidents, friends, generals, spies ad statesmen. men of arts and letters and his nemeses. This book brings WFB, who died 2008, back to us.

  • Paul Lamey
    2019-01-10 09:30

    Edited and assembled by James Rosen, this is possibly a last work from Buckley's pen and estate. There are thousands more papers, articles, and letters housed at Hillsdale College but who knows if they'll see light. For now, this fantastic collection must suffice. A well edited, vastly insightful glance at key figures who inspired, intersected, or even opposed Buckley throughout his massive career as journalist, debater, and leader of the conservative resurgence of the 20th C. Highly recommended whether Buckleyophile or merely wanting a view into the barrel-end of real conservative thought before it's high-jacking by the buffoonery.

  • Jim Milway
    2019-01-21 12:31

    What a great idea for a book. Wm Buckley's obituaries combined his excellent writing with his knowledge (many of which were from personal relationships) of many great figures in the 20th century. It provides great insight into history, culture, and politics. Buckley did not pull punches. I had just seen Darkest Hour, the paean to Winston Churchill, when I was stopped short by Buckley's obit. He concluded that by not stopping the Soviets after WW2, Churchill actually left Europe in worse shape than when he took over as Prime Minister. Heavy stuff. His skewering of Eleanor Roosevelt was fun. A quick, interesting read.

  • Bill
    2019-01-01 15:31

    I saw this in the New books section of the library and figured, this could be a good addition to my 2017 quest of "read books by and about people with whom I disagree". This was a very easy read, as James Rosen will give a 2 or 3 pages introduction of a person (e.g., Nelson Rockefeller), followed by Buckley's 2 or 3 page "obituary" (very different than a traditional obituary). I became a bit tired of Buckley as I read on, but there were interesting insights into historical figures, and it was interesting to get to know a bit about Buckley.

  • Zod Wolcott
    2019-01-16 12:34

    I found this book to be effortlessly readable and a wonderful introduction to a wide variety of famous and not so famous personalities who lived during the 20th century.Furthermore, I found that I couldn't help but be sentimental for the style of prose and capacity for friendships across the political spectrum that this collection illustrates. The witty, eloquent, and respectful political debates of this era are refreshing, especially in the light of the brutish and unintellectual political warfare that characterizes modern political exchanges in America.

  • Paul Miller
    2019-01-05 10:24

    Buckley was winding down by the time I showed up, and I've heard so much about him as the original thinker for modern conservatism. This book turned out to be a great way to put a toe in the water of his writing and thinking as well as his remarkable life. The book is simply a set of Obits he wrote over his career - from famous people to not-so-famous. A unique way to get a glimpse of a truly unique figure. Recommended for students of 20th century history, for sure.

  • Sam Johnson
    2018-12-29 08:06

    An outstanding collection of top-shelf writing about dozens of people, many of whom are famous but others not at all--and the ones about people of whom you've never heard are just as good. And James Rosen did a fantastic job with the headnotes. This is a terrific sampling of WFB's skill as a writer--and it'll make you think of your own life as well. It's sometimes moving and frequently amusing. I'd give examples, but it's better to meet them cold and unexpectedly.

  • Daniel Alders
    2018-12-26 09:22

    WFB is a master of the English language, and as a friend and acquaintance of many of the great minds of the 20th Century, pays appropriate homage through the collected eulogies in this work. Fascinating, thought-provoking, and humbling - for our lives are all but a hands-breadth, and there's nothing like a eulogy to make you evaluate your existence. Highly recommended.

  • Gloria
    2019-01-06 09:10

    interesting book, its about the eulogy's he gave for friends and foes alike, he seemed like a very nice man and though sometimes a little tart with those he was less than friendly with nevertheless he kept an edge of niceness to it. He is an interesting man with an interesting history. You should read and see if you to like it.

  • Steve Peifer
    2019-01-13 11:26

    The problem with a writer so prolific as Buckley is that he was so terribly wrong so often, but the only person who would take on a book like this is a true believer. From civil rights to his blind spot with Goldwater, he never walked back his considerable errors in judgment. He had a way with a phrase, and he loved his friends so this isn't a bad read. It's far from great though.

  • Andrea Engle
    2019-01-14 13:15

    A splendid collection of over fifty eulogies, mainly published in the National Review of both famous and unknown persons ... demonstrates Buckley's mastery of elegant prose ... also, his conservative bias ... beautifully written ...

  • Erin
    2019-01-13 13:27

    Buckley and I are complete opposites when it come to politics, but we both seem to agree that obituaries shouldn't gloss over the complete person with flowery praise. He's so wonderfully bitchy in this that when he does offer compliment or sentiment, it rings out loud and clear.

  • Nooilforpacifists
    2019-01-05 12:26

    Not all of Buckley's collected obituaries are first-rate, but none are third rate. A remarkable man, not just for his writing, but for his jubilant personality--which allowed him social accord will all but one of his political enemies: Gore Vidal outlived WFB.