Buckley, Christopher 1952- (Christopher Taylor Buckley)
Buckley, Christopher 1952- (Christopher Taylor Buckley)
Born September 28, 1952, in New York, NY; son of William F., Jr. (a writer) and Patricia Buckley; married Lucy Gregg, December 8, 1984; children: Caitlin, Conor. Education: Yale University, B.A. (cum laude), 1975. Politics: Republican. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, scuba diving, bicycling, the outdoors.
Writer. Esquire, New York, NY, 1978-80, began as editor, became managing editor; editor at large, beginning 1980; speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, Washington, DC, 1981-83; Forbes, New York, NY, editor of the insert "FYI," beginning 1989.
Century Association, Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club, Yale Club, Bohemian Club.
Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence, 2002; Thurber Prize for American Humor, 2007.
The White House Mess, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.
Wet Work, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Thank You for Smoking, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
(With John Tierney) God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Green Men, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
No Way to Treat a First Lady, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Florence of Arabia, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Boomsday, Twelve/Warner Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (travel book), Congdon & Weed (New York, NY), 1982.
(With James McGuire) Campion (two-act play), Ignatius (New York, NY), 1990.
Wry Martinis (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital (travel book), Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Commonweal, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Esquire, and the New York Times Book Review.
Buckley's novel Thank You for Smoking was adapted for film by Room 9 Entertainment and released in 2006; God Is My Broker: A Monk-TycoonReveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth is being adapted for film by Edward R. Pressman Film Corp., Polsky Films and Stephen Belafonte's WhiteShark Films.
Christopher Buckley has won acclaim as a witty and incisive writer. Buckley is the son of political conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr., who was known for his magazine National Review, his television show Firing Line, and his "Blackford Oakes" series of thrillers. The younger Buckley began his own career at Esquire, where he held various editorial posts, including managing editor, before leaving in 1980 to sail aboard a commercial ship. Buckley had already served one stint at sea when he signed on with a Norwegian freighter after graduating from Yale University. But when he left the magazine for his second term at sea, Buckley found greater adventure—and danger. At least one shipmate suspected him of being an undercover police officer, and still another believed him to be a member of the Central Intelligence Agency. One even talked of killing him. "There was a guy who threatened to throw me over the side," Buckley disclosed to Leslie Kaufman, contributor to the Washington Post. "This is a mean guy. He killed his brother. He's going to kill someone else."
After the end of his second sea tour, Buckley began developing the notes he kept during his sailing days into book form. The result of his efforts is Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter. In this volume, reviewers noted, Buckley relates several gripping anecdotes. He tells of one seafarer who suffocated himself by plugging his throat and nose with blanket shreds. He describes another who reportedly contracted syphilis from an inflatable doll. Among the many characters described is a somewhat deranged cook who regularly spits into the food.
Steaming to Bamboola was praised as an engaging, entertaining volume. Detroit News contributor Beaufort Cranford described Buckley's book as "thoroughly enjoyable" and "chock-full of intriguing information," while Jonathan Yardley, in his Washington Post Book World assessment, deemed Steaming to Bamboola "a funny, high-spirited and immensely enjoyable book." Buckley, Yardley added, amasses "a great deal of fascinating … information." Likewise, Alan Ross wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "Buckley is a treasure trove of out of the way facts and obscure aspects of sea lore." Steaming to Bamboola, Ross concluded, "manages not only to convey the realities of sea life with proper respect, but often to be extremely funny in the process."
By the time Steaming to Bamboola began reaping accolades, Buckley was involved in an eighteen-month term as speechwriter for former Vice President George H.W. Bush, whom Buckley described to Kaufman as "a lovely man." Buckley left the speechwriting job in 1983 and eventually published The White House Mess. In this novel, constructed as a presidential advisor's recollections, Buckley satirizes both politics and the writing of memoirs. The book is set in 1989, as President Ronald Reagan is succeeded by the fictional Thomas Nelson Tucker, and it is narrated by Herbert Wadlough, a middle-aged accountant who has abandoned a profitable position to serve as advisor to the new president. Wadlough's responsibilities, though, far exceed his capacities as a financial expert. He must, for example, conceal from the White House staff the president's sexual activities, which involve frequent bouts with his voluptuous wife, a former actress. In addition there is a range of foolhardy advisors and assistants, including one public relations worker who has prepared form apology letters.
With The White House Mess, Buckley again found favor with reviewers. Charles Madigan, for instance, wrote in the Chicago Tribune Book World that Buckley has produced "a good, fast and funny read," and Yardley wrote in the Washington Post that the author "systematically, and often quite hilariously, skewers all the clichés of political reminiscences." The White House Mess, Yardley added, "is most rewarding and amusingly read as a satire on the Washington memoir." New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt expressed enthusiasm for the boldness of Buckley's humor. "The delight of Mr. Buckley's satire is that it not only sustains itself," Lehmann-Haupt reported, "it actually makes us laugh harder as it makes its outrageous way along."
In 1991, Buckley published Wet Work, a satirical thriller. (The title is a slang term for murder from close quarters.) The hero of the novel is Charlie Becker, who has acquired considerable wealth by receiving government defense contracts. But Becker's political connections are of no avail when his granddaughter overdoses on drugs and he demands the apprehension of the drug makers. Becker seeks revenge, traveling into Peru to destroy the drug lords he blames for his granddaughter's demise. In his New York Times review of Wet Work, Lehmann-Haupt observed that Buckley "manages to make his story real enough to hold the reader." Robert Stuart Nathan, writing in the New York Times Book Review, was most impressed with the book's satirical nature. He lamented the volume's "absence of moral weight" but added that the novel nonetheless "triumphs with the sheer bounty of its laughter." Nathan concluded that Buckley "is well on his way to inventing a brand of black comedy wholly his own."
Buckley's talent for black comedy reached a new peak with his next novel, Thank You for Smoking. The unlikely protagonist of this Washington-insider's tale is Nick Naylor, a former television reporter who found himself on the outside when he mistakenly blurted the scoop that the U.S. president (Secret Service nickname: Rover) had choked to death on a piece of meat. The victim, in fact, had been a dog. Nick rebounds as chief of communications for the Academy of Tobacco Studies—" You want an easy job?" he quips. "Go flack for the Red Cross." He meets for a weekly lunch with his peers representing two more controversial American issues: guns and alcohol. They call themselves the MOD Squad, for Merchants of Death.
While tirelessly defending his trade to a variety of media types and professional gadflies, Nick becomes a reviled public figure who debates with Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. Buckley "has a good time lampooning the sort of evasion and misdirection we have come to expect from representatives of the tobacco industry as they attempt to brush off the suggestion that smoking causes lung cancer or that cigarettes are addictive," noted Jacob Sullivan of Reason. At the same time, the book skewers anti-smoking activists such as the ones who kidnap Nick and attempt to quiet him by attaching one hundred stop-smoking patches to him. Nick survives because, as a chain-smoker, his body is accustomed to large amounts of nicotine. A lively televised argument between Nick and the head of the National Organization of Mothers against Smoking, the director of the Office of Substance Abuse, and a teenage cancer victim suggested to Journal of Family Practice reviewer Adam Goldstein that real-life tobacco-control advocates "can learn a lot from reading this book, not the least of which will be to hone their media advocacy skills."
Buckley adds layers of satire aimed at journalism and show business. When Nick calls the Washington Sun to complain about a story, he "ends up in voice-mail jail," according to Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service contributor Michael Schaffer. Nick hears the following: "You have reached the Washington Sun's ombudsman desk. If you feel you have been inaccurately quoted, press one. If you spoke to a reporter off the record but were identified in the article, press two…." "But the most delicious scenes," commented Amos Blood in American Spectator, "come out of Hollywood," where Nick has gone to arrange a "product placement" deal for his cigarettes to dangle from the lips of a hot young star. The author "claims not to have known when he was writing the book that this kind of thing has in fact gone on for years in the movie business," Blood added.
Many reviewers lauded Thank You for Smoking as a welcome addition to modern American humor. Comparing the book to Buckley's two previous novels, National Review contributor Andrew Ferguson felt The White House Mess was "the funniest Washington novel since John Dean's memoirs," Wet Work was "darker and more ambitious," while Thank You for Smoking "is in its own way … just as ambitious, at once a mystery, a political drama, and a knowing social satire of the first rank."
Buckley next published God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth, which revolves around the fictional Brother Ty (for Tycoon), who rises from the ashes as a failed Wall Street trader to become a guru for the new economy. This was followed by the Beltway satire Little Green Men. This novel "is for you if you've ever wondered why intelligent extraterrestrials would cross entire galaxies to contact a drunk duck hunter … rather than, say, the pope or Alan Greenspan," in the words of Atlanta Journal-Constitution critic David Kirby.
The book stars op-ed fixture John O. Banion, the bow-tied, much-feared host of a Sunday-morning political panel show (many reviewers made the quick connection to George F. Will). Unknown to Banion and the rest of America, for years the government had engaged in an elaborate hoax known as Majestic-12. During the Cold War years, the United States wished to convince the Russians that America had acquired alien technology via such events as the purported spaceship crash in Roswell, New Mexico. For decades, agents carried out a series of realistic "abductions" of everyday Americans; the preference being for overweight Midwestern housewives whose eyewitness accounts can then be sold to supermarket tabloids. "Baggers"—MJ-12 operatives carrying out the abductions—indulge in every alien-sounding trick from anal probes to crop circles.
When a drunken bagger named Scrubbs takes offense at Banion, he decides to "pluck" the acerbic host off the fourth hole of the Burning Bush golf course. So convincing is the abduction that Banion returns to Earth "with the fire of a Moses," as Jonathan Levi put it in the Los Angeles Times, determined to alert America to the presence of extraterrestrial forces. "Chaos follows," noted Washington Monthly contributor Jon Meecham, as Banion "loses his sponsor, his show, and his wife. [He] becomes the apostle of the UFO subculture and leads a Millennial March on the Mall." Levi called the plot of Little Green Men "a brilliant conception with its overtures of Strangelovian Doomsday devices," and added that "some of the funniest passages, in fact, are little entertainments, footnotes that Buckley kindly includes for those of us from a galaxy outside of Washington." Pundit Pierre Salinger, for instance, is explained as an "increasingly obscure figure, believed to have been JFK's press secretary."
Critical reaction to Little Green Men ran toward the positive. However, Steve Kettmann, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, registered a comment that "the book is littered with an obscene number of textual glitches," but he concluded that the novel "is a book you read for its laugh-out-loud high points." "Like most satirists," noted Martin Rubin in Insight on the News, "Buckley is a conservative at heart—deeply skeptical of institutions and of human nature itself." The author told Entertainment Weekly interviewer A.J. Jacobs that his research for Little Green Men came from attending UFO conventions. "The hardest part was keeping a straight face," he remarked.
As many of Buckley's books were published during the Bill Clinton administration, it came as no surprise that the author would look to the 1990s White House for inspiration, as in his novel No Way to Treat a First Lady. As the story opens, First Couple Ken and Beth MacMann are caught in an untidy marriage-of-political-convenience. "The chief executive's philandering ways will remind you of You Know Who," Harry Levins commented in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One day the president turns up dead in the Lincoln Bedroom—bopped over the head by an antique spittoon. And the First Lady—dubbed "Lady Beth Mac" by her staff—is charged with the murder. The resulting "Trial of the Millennium" finds Beth retaining celebrity lawyer Boyce "Shameless" Baylor, who is also her former lawschool boyfriend. In targeting trial lawyers, cable-news networks, the Secret Service, and what a Kirkus Reviews writer called "the American appetite for the awful," the book, wrote Library Journal critic A.J. Anderson, is "shot through with a particularly mordant vein of social satire and mocks the ludicrousness of modern life."
Buckley continues to treat current events with his signature sense of humor, using satire to stretch the limits of acceptable free expression. Florence of Arabia pokes a very sharp pen at some of the more radical ideologies of the Arab world. In the imaginary land of Matar (pronounced "Mutter" in the same way that Qatar is pronounced "Cutter"), a former U.S. State Department staffer named Florence has created a television station to reach out to an unlikely audience—the masses of repressed Arabic women. Her goal is to foment change that will eventually liberate women trapped in the grip of the most militant Islamic sects. As Florence's story unfolds, "Buckley's lightly ironic tone only accentuates the savagery that is his main target," Andrew Stuttaford explained in the National Review. He spares no one, from the "oil sheiks" and suicide bombers to the American investors, politicians, and foreign service appointees. Stuttaford acknowledged the humor in Florence of Arabia, but he also identified a dark side to the story. Most chilling, the critic suggested, is the realization that Buckley's novel was based on the true story of an American woman in Iraq who was assassinated as recently as 2004.
Though Buckley's popularity as a novelist may be based on the acidity of the ink in his pen, Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital reveals a more sentimental side of the author, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Buckley creates four informal walking tours of the nation's capital, laced with background information and anecdotes about the selected sites and structures, and accented by the author's unique sense of humor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the collection "an engaging introduction to the highlights" of this fascinating city by a tour guide who knows his subject well. The Kirkus Reviews contributor predicted that Washington Schlepped Here may be "as much a love letter as we're ever likely to get from [this writer.]"
Boomsday is set in Washington, DC, and takes a comedic look at what happens when the Baby Boom generation retires and puts a significant strain on the Social Security coffers. Younger generations balk at being forced to support their elders with no hope for seeing any money in their own generation. Buckley's dark humor finds fodder in such suggestions as tax breaks for any Boomer who is willing to commit suicide when they reach the age of sixty-five, thereby taking themselves out of the Social Security pool and lessening the drain on the fund, an idea posed by his heroine, Cassandra Divine, a Y-generation blogger intent on stopping the Boomers from eliminating any chances for her own retirement down the line. Janet Maslin, reviewing for the New York Times, noted that "Mr. Buckley can be funny even when he isn't joking, though not even he can laugh away the problem that gives Boomsday its premise. The best resolution he can devise is one that ends in midair." However, Maslin praised the book overall, acknowledging the necessity of a complicated setup for Buckley's premise, and going on to comment that "his idea soon yields the exquisitely dizzy, Wodehouse-style mischief that is his specialty." A contributor for the Economist called the book "a splendid romp." Sandy Bauers, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, remarked: "Politics was never so much fun before Christopher Buckley got hold of it and gave it a good shake."
Buckley's writings, and even his physical appearance, are strongly reminiscent of his father's. However, the younger Buckley has said that he was never influenced by his famous father to write satirical, political novels. While many children of famous people have failed to equal their elders' talents, the reactions of literary critics have shown that Buckley has successfully managed to establish a name for himself.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Buckley, Christopher, Thank You for Smoking, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
American Spectator, October, 1994, Amos Blood, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 77.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 4, 1999, David Kirby, "The Truth Is Way out There," p. K10.
Book, May, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 87.
Booklist, March 1, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of Wry Martinis, p. 1104.
Books, spring, 2001, review of Little Green Men, p. 20.
Business and Society Review, summer, 1994, Carl Hiassen, review of Thank You for Smoking, pp. 63-64.
Business Week, June 6, 1994, Joan O'C. Hamilton, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 15.
Chicago Tribune Book World, March 16, 1986, Charles Madigan, review of The White House Mess, pp. 36, 39.
Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 16.
Detroit News, April 18, 1982, Beaufort Cranford, review of Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter, p. F2.
Economist, April 28, 2007, "Boom and Doom; Budget Busting," p. 96.
Entertainment Weekly, June 3, 1994, D.A. Ball, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 52; March 28, 1997, L.S. Klepp, review of Wry Martinis, p. 62; April 9, 1999, A.J. Jacobs, "Flying Saucy," p. 36.
Financial Times, April 22, 2000, Julia Pascal, "I Was Abducted by Aliens," p. 4.
Forbes, June 20, 1994, Steve Forbes, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 24; August 11, 1997, Casper Weinberger, review of Wry Martinis, p. 37; September 7, 1998, Casper Weinberger, review of God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth, p. 41.
Fortune, April 26, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 62.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 5, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. D10.
Houston Chronicle, May 23, 1999, Steven Alford, "Buckley Still Smoking, This Time with Aliens," p. 23.
Insight on the News, May 17, 1999, Martin Rubin, review of Little Green Men, p. 36.
Journal of Family Practice, December, 1995, Adam Goldstein, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 607.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 318; January 1, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 30; February 15, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 254; August 1, 2002, review of No Way to Treat a First Lady, p. 1055; February 1, 2003, review of Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital, p. 198; September 1, 2004, review of Florence of Arabia, p. 819.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 6.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 22, 1994, Michael Schaffer, review of Thank You for Smoking.
Library Journal, April 1, 1994, A.J. Anderson, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 130; March 1, 1997, A.J. Anderson, review of Wry Martinis, p. 75; September 1, 2002, A.J. Anderson, review of No Way to Treat a First Lady, p. 210.
Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1999, Jonathan Levi, review of Little Green Men.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 31, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 9; March 16, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 8; March 28, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 6.
National Review, June 13, 1994, Andrew Ferguson, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 68; March 24, 1997, Jonathan Foreman, review of Wry Martinis, p. 55; April 19, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 65; November 8, 2004, Andrew Stuttaford, review of Florence of Arabia, p. 48.
New Statesman and Society, July 28, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 39.
New Yorker, June 27, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 195; December 15, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 154; May 10, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 89.
New York Times, March 10, 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The White House Mess; February 25, 1991, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Wet Work, p. C20; June 23, 1994, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. B2; May 3, 1998, Deborah Stead, review of God Is My Broker, p. BU13; March 19, 2007, Janet Maslin, "My Fellow Boomers, Time to Transition," p. 1.
New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991, Robert Stuart Nathan, review of Wet Work, p. 11; June 5, 1994, Larry Gelbart, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 7; March 23, 1997, Ben Macintyre, review of Wry Martinis, p. 9; March 29, 1998, Dwight Garner, review of God Is My Broker, p. 9; April 11, 1999, Mordecai Richler, "Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind," p. 12.
Observer (London, England), November 26, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 10.
People, June 27, 1994, Susan Toepfer, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 21.
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2007, Sandy Bauers, "Great Characters, Great Narrator, Great Fun."
Publishers Weekly, March 28, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 80; December 30, 1996, review of Wry Martinis, p. 44; March 30, 1998, review of God Is My Broker, p. 71; January 25, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 70; July 29, 2002, review of No Way to Treat a First Lady, p. 49; February 24, 2003, review of Washington Schlepped Here, p. 62.
Rapport, Volume 3, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 31.
Reason, November, 1994, Jacob Sullivan, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 69.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 9, 2002, Harry Levins, "White House Murder Tale Is Shameless Fun," p. E1.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 1998, Alix Madrigal, "Satirist Christopher Buckley Takes Aim at Self-Help Books," p. 4; May 23, 1999, Steve Kettmann, "More Funny Beltway-Bashing," p. 9.
Skeptic, summer, 1999, David Pitt, "Plucked in Space," p. 92.
Spectator, November 20, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 49.
Time, July 18, 1994, R.Z. Sheppard, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 58.
Times Literary Supplement, August 20, 1982, Alan Ross, review of Steaming to Bamboola, p. 898; July 14, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 23.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 14, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 8.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 103; autumn, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 129.
Vogue, April, 1999, William Powers, review of Little Green Men, p. 224.
Wall Street Journal, June 17, 1994, Dave Shiflett, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. A12; March 26, 1999, Gabriella Stern, review of Little Green Men, p. W10.
Washington Monthly, June, 1994, Alan Murray, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 58; June, 1997, Sandra McElwaine, review of Wry Martinis, p. 52; March, 1999, Jon Meecham, "Capital Follies," p. 55.
Washington Post, March 12, 1986, Jonathan Yardley, review of The White House Mess; June 10, 1994, Leslie Kaufman, "Son of a Smoking Gun," author interview, p. D1; May 22, 1994, George Will, "Chronicles of the Washington Mod Squad," p. C7.
Washington Post Book World, April 4, 1982, Jonathan Yardley, review of Steaming to Bamboola, p. 3; June 5, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 2; March 23, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 13.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (April 6, 1999), Craig Offman, "Capital Crackpots."