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Russell Kirk: American Conservative

by Bradley J. Birzer

Availablepaperback$29.95s 978-0-8131-7527-0
Availablecloth$70.00x 978-0-8131-6618-6
608 pages  Pubdate: 05/18/2018  6 x 9  18 b&w photos, 14 figures

Emerging from two decades of the Great Depression and the New Deal and facing the rise of radical ideologies abroad, the American Right seemed beaten, broken, and adrift in the early 1950s. Although conservative luminaries such as T. S. Eliot, William F. Buckley Jr., Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin all published important works at this time, none of their writings would match the influence of Russell Kirk’s 1953 masterpiece The Conservative Mind. This seminal book became the intellectual touchstone for a reinvigorated movement and began a sea change in Americans’ attitudes toward traditionalism.

In Russell Kirk, Bradley J. Birzer investigates the life and work of the man known as the founder of postwar conservatism in America. Drawing on papers and diaries that have only recently become available to the public, Birzer presents a thorough exploration of Kirk’s intellectual roots and development. The first to examine the theorist’s prolific writings on literature and culture, this magisterial study illuminates Kirk’s lasting influence on figures such as T. S. Eliot, William F. Buckley Jr., and Senator Barry Goldwater—who persuaded a reluctant Kirk to participate in his campaign for the presidency in 1964.

While several books examine the evolution of postwar conservatism and libertarianism, surprisingly few works explore Kirk’s life and thought in detail. This engaging biography not only offers a fresh and thorough assessment of one of America’s most influential thinkers but also reasserts his humane vision in an increasingly inhumane time.

Bradley J. Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and professor of history at Hillsdale College and interim president and CEO of the American Conservative magazine. He is also the second Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, University of Colorado–Boulder, and the author of American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll and Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson. Birzer is a cofounder of and senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative.

An extraordinary book. Birzer has written a capacious and deeply humane treatment of an important thinker, writer, and actor who has been largely forgotten by an America that once regarded him as a singular and important voice. This lively and fascinating book will be read and talked about. -- Patrick Deneen, author of Democratic Faith

Bradley J. Birzer's Russell Kirk will blow away the stereotypes of what it means to be a conservative in modern America. Kirk's thinking is sharp, his writing is rich, and the fruits of his imagination retain their power to strike even the most skeptical of readers. Birzer has produced an essential introduction to this towering figure. -- Gary L. Gregg, Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership, University of Louisville

Russell Kirk: American Conservative [is] a beautifully written and deeply insightful biography.
Birzer traces the development of Kirk’s ideas, especially the influence Burke, Dawson, Eliot and (surprise) the political philosopher Leo Strauss. He explores Kirk’s concept of the transcendent, which moved from Stoicism to “full communion with the Catholic Church.” And he considers Kirk’s forays in the public square, not least his association with Barry Goldwater, the 1964 presidential candidate. -- Wall Street Journal

Given the confused and dispirited state of American conservatism at the present moment, it is high time for a Russell Kirk revival. The very thought of such a revival is appealing, even exhilarating, and the appearance of Bradley J. Birzer’s splendid and exhaustively researched biography of Kirk just might provide the catalyst needed to set it in motion. -- National Review

Birzer covers it all, from Kirk’s family life and Catholic conversion to his disputes with Jaffa and other Straussians over the meaning of the Declaration of Independence.
At last, we have the definitive book about this important, fascinating, and good man. -- Claremont Review

The new biography mines Kirk's vast archive respectfully, thouroughly and eloquently.
An engaging biography of one of the most influential and yet enegmatic figures on the American Right. -- Mark Pulliam -- Library of Law & Liberty

A diligent and adulatory study of Kirk’s life and thought. Birzer succeeds admirably. -- Christopher Caldwell -- New York Times

This wonderful work is a fascinating account of a great catholic and conservative. -- Catholic Medical Quarterly

Birzer is the first researcher to have been granted full access to Kirk’s letters, diaries, and draft manuscripts. He has avoided – as others haven’t – defining Kirk by his list of accomplishments and has pieced together a comprehensive, complex account of Kirk’s personality, motivations, and influences. -- Los Angeles Review of Books

By presenting this thorough portrait of an extraordinary man, Birzer allows us to commune with Kirk. That is an act of authentic piety. -- First Things

Birzer demonstrates, with tremendous skills and wide-ranging research, how Kirk focused on ‘the whole, the universal principles that hold one person and one culture together at any one moment of time and across time.' [T]his biography provides an excellent history, and often pointed critique, of American conservatism and politics in the 20th century. -- Chronicles

Mr. Birzer’s penetrating look at the life and thought of Russell Kirk places him at the fountainhead of the conservative movement we have inherited today. Love or hate Kirk, this should be required reading for conservatives who wish to rediscover their roots, and perhaps refurnish our politics with the permanent things. -- Washington Times

Birzer, a historian by training, is a vibrant biographer and sympathetic guide to Kirk’s own historical orientation. Birzer not only chronicle’s Kirk’s own life but also expertly explores his context and competitors. Birzer also gives us the first extended measure of Kirk the man. We are indebted to Birzer for a book that, like the principles of conservatism, will endure, ennoble, and encourage. -- Modern Age Journal

In a splendid, meticulously researched biography Bradley J. Birzer ably reveals the complexities of Kirk’s thinking. -- Claremont Review of Books

In the course of sharing Kirk’s life, Birzer does a wonderful job of exploring the conservative movement in the middle and late twentieth century. There is so much here to be learned, enjoyed, and maybe even emulated. -- Touchstone

No other figure in 20th-century American political life deserved an exemplary biographical study more than Russell Amos Kirk. Thanks to Birzer, such an important work now exists. Birzer has a truly amazing command of the primary sources, and his archival labors evince the work of a superior scholar and talented historian. -- Choice

Dr. Birzer not only chronicles Kirk’s own life but also expertly explores his context and competitors. While Kirk is not unknown to today’s conservatives, the vitality of Dr. Birzer’s narrative coupled with its insightful recovery of requisite conservative themes will keep Kirk from becoming a lifeless icon or byword. We are indebted to Dr. Birzer for a book that, like the principles of conservatism, will endure, ennoble, and encourage. -- USSA News

[This Russell Kirk biography] is by far the longest and offers the widest sweep of coverage. It is the first book to make extensive use of Kirk’s personal papers, illuminating details of his career without greatly altering his established image.
Birzer has given readers a smoothly written and thoroughly researched study. -- Journal of American History

Bradley J. Birzer’s big biography will immediately become the standard life-and-times account of Kirk. This work offers a full portrait, appropriately devoting most of its pages to Kirk’s writings, politics, and critical role as an intellectual engagé. The strengths of Birzer’s biography are numerous. -- Journal of Southern History

LISTEN: Dr. Bradley J. Birzer discusses his work on the Conservative Book Club podcast. | Listen online here

[Kirk’s] story is aptly and enjoyably told in Russell Kirk: American Conservative. One of the best books I read in 2017. A real gem. -- The Heavy Laden Bookshelf

Birzer manages to convey the great scope and depth of Russell Kirk as a political thinker, cultural critic, historian, political theorist, and journalist, but also covers Kirk’s many other and often significant activities. Birzer’s book is very thorough and nearly flawless. It will undoubtedly become the “definitive” work on Kirk as a social, historical, cultural, and political thinker. -- The Imaginative Conservative

Every few years, some writer floats the prospect of a Russell Kirk revival. Our hopes were raised with the publication of Birzer’s well-received Russell Kirk: American Conservative. -- Law and Liberty

An excellent collection of Kirk’s letters. -- The Atlantic

Winner of the Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute -- Broadway World