Perhaps the only realistic element in the persona of Blackford Oakes, the protagonist of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s spy novels, is that he’s a Yalie. So far as I am aware, even James Bond did not manage to bed the Queen. As for the rest—startlingly handsome, a gentleman’s sense of gallantry, an eminently likeable personality, a temperament forged by a sound, Judeo-Christian outlook and old-fashioned patriotism—well, the odds of finding them in one man, much less a man whom the CIA might in fact hire, must incline to the galactically improbable.

Except when set against the life of Blackie’s progenitor. Now closing in on his eightieth birthday, Bill Buckley was born to an oilman expelled from Mexico for his counterrevolutionary sympathies, was packed off to a British boarding school on the eve of World War II, flew planes on the side at Yale, was...


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