A Torch Kept Lit

A Torch Kept Lit

Great Lives of the Twentieth Century

William F. Buckley Jr. and James Rosen, ed.

Crown Forum, New York, 2016, 336 pages

Book Review published on: May 25, 2017

Anyone watching James Rosen, chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, rapidly realizes that he packs ten minutes of information into a five-minute story. This ability comes in large measure from Rosen’s abiding affection for the talents of master communicator William F. Buckley Jr.

Buckley, a former U.S. Army officer, is renowned for his unmatched influence on modern American conservative thought. He founded National Review in 1955, serving as its editor until 1990. Beginning in 1962, Buckley had a twice-weekly syndicated column, which eventually appeared in over 320 newspapers. Buckley also founded the Emmy Award-winning PBS television show Firing Line, the longest-running single host public affairs show in history (1966–1999). As if that were not enough, Buckley authored more than fifty books and lectured at colleges for over five decades.

In tribute to his prolific mentor, Rosen selects fifty-two of Buckley’s best eulogies, from a collection of over 250. For the book, A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century, Rosen divides the eulogies into six thematically organized categories. Of likely interest to military readers are two categories: “Presidents,” which includes Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan; and “Generals, Spies, and Statesman,” which includes twelve. In each of these eulogies, Rosen “crafted a prefatory note designed to acquaint Buckley fans and more casual readers with the nature and background of his relationship to The Departed and to present facets of those relationships that the eulogies sometimes omit.”

Using eulogies may initially seem strange, but they actually offer a surprising perspective of the past. Just as looking through a peephole portrays more than the human eye can normally see, these eulogies reveal influential events in the life of “The Departed” and how “The Departed” influenced those events. It is an unconventional way to recount both history and the history makers. If one wants to hear history rhyme, A Torch Kept Lit provides the perfect prose.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is Buckley and Rosen’s penchant for sesquipedalian word choice. I could not go one chapter without consulting a dictionary. In spite of this frustration, it did prove its own reward. Perhaps the most pertinent word was Rosen’s usage of “antonomasia” in describing one of the many literary devices Buckley expertly employed. In the case of antonomasia, Rosen mercifully provides the definition, such as “the practice, usually derisive, of describing an individual by a certain characteristic and then using that as the individual’s name.” Think “Lying Ted” or “Crooked Hillary.” Thanks to A Torch Kept Lit, one now realizes Trump’s technique had a title.

The title of this book comes from John F. Kennedy’s eulogy. Buckley reminds the readers, still stinging from Kennedy’s assassination, that Kennedy “wouldn’t want a caterwauling public besotted by its own tears for its own self...” but, instead, “to keep the torch lit.” All told, this is a great book that sheds light on much of our modern era and that can easily be read in increments without any loss of coherence.

Book Review written by: Col. Robert G. Young, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Gordon, Georgia