Living On Fire: The Life Of Brent Bozell, Jr., by Daniel Kelly
This book is a very powerful one, being a biography of someone I had heard about because of my general reading interests, but someone whose life story had been largely unknown to me. This story ended up being inspirational, on the one hand, but also a deeply sad and poignant story of how it was that a life that had been so productive in terms of writing and political activism was largely derailed for a long period of time by the scourge of mental illness, and how it was that what was known about this person had drastically changed until the end of life proved to be a glorious achievement of grace in immense difficulty. It was at times painful to read this biography, not because it was written poorly or even unsympathetically, but because it conveyed a life that had a lot of trials in it, and that featured above all the struggle for dignity and respect and well-being in the face of mental health struggles that jeopardized all of these. Dignity matters a great deal in our lives, and that which threatens to rob us of it is all the more fearsome and worrisome in our minds.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it is divided into fifteen chapters. After a foreword, the book begins with a discussion of Bozell’s family background (1), as well as his reputation as being a bulldog when it came to ferocious debate (2). This led to his early writings generally in favor of McCarthy (3) and his efforts to counteract the supposed trend of history (4). This led him to be a ghostwriter (5) and then to live for a time in Spain (6), a nation he came to deeply love, despite its alien nature to where he had come from. A discussion of his pulling up of stakes (7), and then his devotion to the defense of the Constitution (8) as well as of his Catholic faith (9) then follow. After that comes a discussion of his role on the cutting edge of conservative Catholic activism (10) as well as his pessimistic thoughts about the state of America at the time (11). The rest of the book is far more grim, with a look at Bozell’s descent into madness with a look at his delusions about the empire he was forming (12), a period of deep depression that followed his failures as an editor (13), his long years of struggle with manic depression (14), and his merciful and gracious passing (15), after which the book ends with an epilogue, notes, acknowledgements, and an index.
If there is one thing in particular that the author nails as far as this biography is concerned, it is that Brent Bozell, Jr. lived his life on fire. Whether it meant his fire and unwillingness to compromise when it came to conservative politics in the early part of his career, or whether it was fire for the Catholic church to which he converted as a young adult and whose interests he increasingly supported, even if he was not deeply and closely connected personally to the Catholic culture, such as it is, within the United States, it was on fire. And it is clear that the fiery passion that he held matters of faith and politics was also a fire that sometimes burned him, especially because his fire for these matters also involved him in a couple of unsuccessful runs for state political office in Maryland and involved him in disagreements and rows with others and in his struggles to be respected and honored even when he was struggling with poverty and making terrible decisions in states of mania or dealing with lengthy depressive spells. If this book is the tale of a triumph, it is not the triumph that the subject or his friends and family expected or wanted, but it is the sort of triumph in the face of adversity that is accessible to a great many people.