On the Firing Line

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This book is as intriguing as the best spy thriller--perhaps even more so, because it is not fiction. The characters are real, the events and issues discussed now part of American history.

The edited transcripts and their accompanying commentary make fascinating reading. Never mind that in putting together this volume, Buckley has assured himself the last word in every debate; his commentary adds immeasurably to the text. The reader may bring his own historical perspective to such discussions as those on capital punishment and the American penal system between Buckley and such “Firing Line” guests a Truman Capote, Jimmy Hoffa, G. Gordon Liddy, or Steve Allen.

True to the nature of his television program, the ever-contemporary Buckley has selected those transcripts which are of most interest today. There is a 1977 interview with Alan Paton (CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY) about South African politics, a 1980 interview with presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan about what he would accomplish if elected, and a 1982 discussion with Fox Butterfield on communism in China.

A textbook for students of communication, ON THE FIRING LINE uses humor to instruct the reader in the art of debate. The chapter dubbed “Manifest Evasiveness” shows how some of our best public speakers skirt the issues.

As one would expect, the organization of Buckley’s book is nearly perfect. The annotated table of contents, alphabetical listing of “Firing Line” guests, and index make this a highly accessible volume.