America lost faith in itself during the 1960s. Assassins made martyrs, cities burned, priests renounced their gods and Vietnam butchered. The salvation of the times, however, was the quality of self-awareness, particularly in the writing. Kevin M Schultz’s dual biography of Norman Mailer and William F Buckley is an embarrassing reminder of how much better social criticism used to be. Jewish and socialist, Mailer was the favourite writer of the Yippies, young revolutionaries who wanted to expose the hypocrisy of America through political theatre. Catholic and Republican, Buckley was the grandaddy of American conservatism: founder of the National Review and leading spokesman for the squares.
You would think that no two men could be more different. But Schultz convinces us otherwise. They didn’t just become friends because they appeared on so many chat shows together. Both also served during the Second World War, both were relatively privileged, both obsessed about language and its uses, both ended up running for mayor of New York and both hated Gore Vidal. Moreover, while they