Buckley, Christopher (Taylor) 1952-
BUCKLEY, Christopher (Taylor) 1952-
PERSONAL: Born September 28, 1952, in New York, NY; son of William F., Jr. (a writer) and Patricia (Taylor) Buckley; married Lucy Gregg, December 8, 1984; children: Caitlin, Conor. Education: Yale University, B.A. (cum laude), 1975. Politics: Republican. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, SCUBA diving, bicycling, the outdoors.
ADDRESSES: Home—3516 Newark St. NW, Washington, DC 20016-3168. Office—c/o Forbes FYI, 60 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Esquire, New York, NY, 1978-80, began as editor, became managing editor; editor at large, beginning in 1980; speechwriter for Vice President George Bush, 1981-83; editor of FYI (Forbes magazine insert), 1990—.
MEMBER: Century Association, Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club, Yale Club, Bohemian Club.
Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (travelogue), Congdon & Weed (New York, NY), 1982.
The White House Mess (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.
(With James McGuire) Campion (two-act play), Ignatius (New York, NY), 1990.
Wet Work (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Thank You for Smoking (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Wry Martinis (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
(With John Tierney) God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Green Men (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
No Way to Treat a First Lady (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital (travelogue), Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Commonweal and New York Times Book Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Christopher Buckley has won acclaim as a witty and incisive writer. Buckley is the son of political conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr., who is 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 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.
Upon publication in 1982, Steaming to Bamboola readily won praise as an engaging, entertaining volume. Detroit News contributor Beaufort Cranford proclaimed Buckley's book "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 well into an eighteen-month term as speechwriter for former Vice President George Bush, whom Buckley described to the Washington Post as "a lovely man." Buckley left the speechwriting job in 1983 and eventually published a second book, The White House Mess, in 1986. 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 are 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 had 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 professed 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 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 outs 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 he 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's 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."
Following the cowritten 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, Buckley produced the 1999 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, determined to alert America to the presence of extraterrestrial forces. "Chaos follows," noted Washington Monthly contributor Jon Meacham, 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, writing for the Los Angeles Times, 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 to the positive. However, Steve Kettmann, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, registered a complaint 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," said 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 comes as no surprised that the author would look to the 1990s White House for inspiration. That came with his 2002 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 law-school 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, said 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's writings, and even his physical appearance, are strongly reminiscent of his father. 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 elder's talents, the reactions of literary critics have shown that Buckley has successfully managed to establish a name for himself.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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.
Commonweal, August 14, 1987, pp. 452-457.
Detroit News, April 18, 1982, Beaufort Cranford, review of Steaming to Bamboola, p. F2.
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.
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, March 30, 1986; February 24, 1991, p. 6; 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, May 14, 1982, pp. 571-72; May 9, 1986, pp. 52-53; 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.
New Republic, October 13, 1986, pp. 40-42.
New Statesman & Society, July 28, 1995, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 39.
Newsweek, March 24, 1986, p. 75.
New Yorker, April 14, 1986, pp. 109-110; 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 Review of Books, May 8, 1986, pp. 12-13.
New York Times, March 10, 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Jonathan Yardley, 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.
New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1982, p. 18; March 16, 1986, p. 8; 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, March 18, 1991, p. 27; June 27, 1994, Susan Toepfer, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1991, pp. 38-39; 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.
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.
Time, July 18, 1994, R. Z. Sheppard, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 58.
Times (London, England), September 9, 1982.
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.
Spectator, November 20, 1999, review of Little Green Men, p. 49.
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, April 28, 1982; 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; January 27, 1991, p. 1; June 5, 1994, review of Thank You for Smoking, p. 2; March 23, 1997, review of Wry Martinis, p. 13.
Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (April 6, 1999), Craig Offman, "Capital Crackpots."*