The best part of the book is devoted to James Burnham, a Trotskyite who became one of the founding writers of conservative magazine National Review in the 1950s. Like the rest of the men discussed in Kimball’s book, he was once a major public intellectual and the author of a bestselling book, The Managerial Revolution, that echoed Hayek in raising alarms about the growth of the bureaucratic state, and its diminishing effect on personal liberty.
A fervent anti-Communist, Burnham was tarred with the McCarthyite brush and marginalized by mainstream conservatives who had been convinced to lose that battle and find pariahs. Kimball does a fine job of reviving Burnham’s memory and reputation, and opens up his character for a glimpse by noting his journey away – and ultimately back – to his Catholic upbringing. (…)
Anyone with a taste for the hortatory pamphleteering that typifies today’s political bestsellers might have a hard time with a book like Kimball’s. I found myself picking it up in fits and starts, and only after fortifying myself for some mental effort, but keep in mind that Kimball has done far more of the heavy lifting ahead of you, and that his book is a primer of sorts, pulling together all the dropped threads and forgotten names whose undeserved obscurity have helped create what he rightly calls and age of amnesia.