Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Cruising Speed is a diary or journal—whichever term is the more inclusive— recording the activities of one week (November 30 through December 6, 1970) in the life of William F. Buckley, Jr., author, editor, columnist, lecturer, television personality, conservative controversialist, and several more things besides.

It is helpful for the reader to recall the historical circumstances surrounding the book’s publication. Richard M. Nixon is completing the second year of his first term as President of the United States. The Watergate scandal and the president’s resignation in disgrace are some three years into the future. The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War is entering roughly its tenth year, and Buckley strongly supports the prosecution of that war.

The genre of Cruising Speed is both a venerable and an appropriate one. The literature of self-examination goes back at least as far as Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (1580-1595; Essays). It could be argued, in fact, that the genre dates from Saint Augustine’s Confessiones (397; Confessions). Although he is a devout Roman Catholic, Buckley seldom adopts a confessional tone. The structure of Cruising Speed is more akin to that of John Evelyn’s Diary (1818) and of Samuel Pepys’s Diary (1825), those two invaluable and fascinating records of life in Restoration England. The differences are significant enough—Evelyn and Pepys wrote for themselves, not the public, and their diaries were not published until they had been dead for more than a century—but the similarities are striking too. Buckley, like the English diarists, is a man of affairs, who records the details of his daily life— although for only seven days—during a period of social and political...

(The entire section is 750 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Dubois, Larry. “Cruising Speed,” in Harper’s Magazine. CCXLIII ( November, 1971), pp. 134-136.

Dunne, John Gregory. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” in The New York Review of Books. XXX (October 13, 1983), pp. 20, 28-30.

Mano, D. K. “Man in Motion,” in National Review. XXIII (October 8, 1971), p. 1121.

Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 1976.

Ross, Mitchell S. The Literary Politicians, 1978.

Winchell, Mark Royden. William F. Buckley, Jr., 1984.