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Right Time, Right Place

How it felt to grow up at the National Review – with William F. Buckley Jr., as a mentor.

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Think of a cause you care about deeply. Who’s the figure you most admire in that movement? Now picture that person taking you to lunch, when you’re 23, and declaring that you – you! – will be his successor.

Such was the fantasy that Richard Brookhiser lived as a protégé of National Review editor William F. Buckley Jr., conservatism’s standard-bearer for a half-century. Brookhiser was, to put it mildly, a prodigy. He wrote his first magazine cover story at 14. Steep falls often follow such precocious rises. But when Buckley changed his mind and sought a different heir, Brookhiser didn’t self-destruct; he just rejiggered his career.

Such equanimity means Right Time, Right Place is refreshingly free of spicy score settling and juicy revelations. Instead, readers get tasty morsels of candor caramelized in the searing heat of self-reflection. The result is a psychologically rich personal narrative.

Brookhiser’s impressions, from editorial dinner parties to presidential campaigns, amount to a cathartic tribute to Buckley, who was more than a mere mentor. He was equal parts father figure, hero, benefactor, and cool older brother. We all yearn to please our fathers, and Brookhiser longed for Buckley’s approval. More often than not, he got it.

But when the elder suddenly withdrew his blessing – he didn’t think junior had the “executive flair” to be editor – Brookhiser was heartbroken. Time has clearly softened the blow, because, like a letter to a long-ago first love, “Right Place, Right Time” features more healing than regret and recrimination.

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