Two conservative icons meet in a well-considered book, as they often did in life.
Buckley (The Rake, 2007, etc.), who recently passed away at the age of 82, opens with a charming anecdote of an adventure he and Barry Goldwater shared in Antarctica, long after the latter’s unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1964. Ever the scholar—though that was not part of his public persona—Goldwater took the occasion to discourse on ice and Antarctica’s abundance thereof. “There is everything there, potentially: the control of the weather; the answer to the fresh-water problem,” Goldwater expounded. “A vat of energy greater than the known supply of the world’s oil. If I had been elected president, you’d have seen it all come to life.” Buckley knew something of that bid, having engineered the making of Goldwater’s soi-disant autobiography The Conscience of a Conservative. One impetus for that book was Richard Nixon, who “had the grit and skill of a seasoned politician” and was the GOP’s only real possibility in the 1960 race against John F. Kennedy, but who failed to stir Republicans at the convention, much less the rest of the American people. Goldwater, Buckley and his conservative colleagues at the National Review, had the ability to stir emotions—though in directions they might not have foreseen when they commissioned Brent Bozell to ghost-write Conscience in 1959. That book, Buckley notes, came in short and late, but it was a hit all the same, and it afforded a series of talking points for Republicans for the next four years. This book is as much a history of the rightward drift of the GOP, which allowed the likes of Reagan and Bush II into office, as it is of Goldwater himself.
As with anything by Buckley, it is fluent and gossipy (the scene involving Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand is a howler), fun to read and newsworthy.