A biography of conservatism's knight-errant, by free-lancer Judis, who began this work five years ago as a profile in The Progressive. Judis finds Buckley's conservative ire moribund, Reagan's ascension to power having robbed Buckley of his natural posture as a promulgator of bad news. Judis, in fact, leaves off with a vague assumption that Buckley may only be revivified if liberalism is resurrected upon Reagan's departure. At any rate, Judis has other problems here. For one, he can't seem to make up his mind whether he is writing a biography proper of Buckley or an intellectual history of conservatism (the endless analyses of editorial squabbles at the National Review vaguely echo George Nash's excellent The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945). For another, the very aspects of Buckley that have endeared him to millions--his TV persona, his spy novels, his sailing and its outgrowth, his sailing chronicles: in other words, his joie de vivre--are here presented as some sort of sad commentary on a wastrel's life. And finally, Judis, in focusing on the intellectual games of the conservative braintrust, fails to provide a full picture of Buckley's personal life. His family appears only in occasional cameos, his wife vying quite well in a game of witty one-upmanship (for portraits of the Buckley family, Charles Lam Markman's The Buckleys, written 15 years ago, is much more revealing). About the only excitement here is the opening portrait of Buckley's somewhat obnoxious boyhood and school years, epitomized by his writing to the King of England to scold him for not paying his war debts. Unsatisfying, capturing neither the spirit nor the telling fact of Buckley's life thus far.