Russell Kirk: The Sword of Imagination

Memoirs of a Half-Century of Literary Conflict

Eerdmans, 1995

Book Description:

The Sword of ImaginationRussell Kirk (1918-1994) was an active participant in the intellectual, social, and political contests of our era. This memoir, written dispassionately in the third person, is a lively account of the literary and political controversies of more than half a century.

These chapters discuss the climate of opinion, the tribulations, and the prospects of modern culture, as perceived by a person who commeced as a small boy in the railroad yards outside Detroit; began to acquire college degrees; served four years as a soldier; studied and wandered in Scotland, western Europe, Africa, and elsewhere; became a gray eminence in national politics through the publication of his book The Conservative Mind; was a polemicist and debater during the turbulent sixties and seventies; wrote a syndicated newspaper column and a page in National Review; published some thirty books and edited many others; was converted by dead writers to the Catholic faith; and settled in an Italianate mansion in the decayed village of Mecosta, Michigan, where, from his remote, northern fastness, he wielded his sword of imagination, laying bare the conceits of a sensate age.

This book is as much a chronicle of the confusion and perplexities of the twentieth century as it is an autobiography. Philosophical insights and religious observations abound. Its portraits of Henry Ford, the Earl of Crawford, Flannery O’Connor, the Archduke Otto von Habsburg, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Donald Davidson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and other notables are unparalleled.

In style as in substance, this volume by a man of letters will interest a wide audience. Kirk’s keen insight into the minds of children, his romantic courtship of a great beauty, his perceptions of human nature, his adventures in dark corners, and more make this book difficult to lay aside.


“A wonderful capstone of a worthy life…A man of wholesome prejudices, fresh insights, wide experience, and calm self-assurance, Russell Kirk knew who he was and why he was here on earth. As with the best men, his life was his greatest work, and one knows it most fully in these pages.”  Edward E. Ericson, Jr, Calvin College

“The massively detailed autobiography of an extraordinary American. Even ideological adversaries, whom Kirk engaged with his potent polemical pen and on innumerable public platforms, were constrained to admit that he was one of the finest essayists this country has ever produced…This volume is a highly serious work, characterized by personal charm, irrepressible humor, and historical insight. It is an important book, and I am gravely mistaken if it does not live to exert genuine influence on thinking now and in the next century.”  Milton Hindus, Brandeis University

“Russell Kirk’s final work is a tribute to him as a seminal thinker…A wonderful read, indispensable to those interested in a conservative’s view of a half century.”  William F. Buckley, Jr

“Kirk’s memoirs will take their place alongside the exemplar of the genre, The Education of Henry Adams. They fascinate, they charm, they enlighten.”  Forrest McDonald, University of Alabama

“In his final literary gift to us, Russell Kirk brandishes his incomparable ‘sword of imagination’ to chronicle his remarkable involvement in the literary and political history of the twentieth century – a history that he did so much to shape…Though writing in a time of decay, he cheerfully points the way toward renewal of both the soul and the commonwealth.”  T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr, Intercollegiate Studies Institute

“Kirk’s memoirs bear remarkable witness to our times and to the love of life that guided and inspired their author. Written with verve, insight, and a novelist’s sense of detail, they record one of the most interesting pilgrimages of our century, a pilgrimage that offers an example to America…Full of lively pen portraits of Kirk’s mentors and opponents, these memoirs will interest anyone for whom the history of our century matters.”  Roger Scruton, editor, The Salisbury Review

“An astonishing and triumphant life. Russell Kirk disapproved of many aspects of the modern world and set himself the task, as a man of letters, of explaining why. Enormously erudite and a nonstop source of books and articles of almost every conceivable kind, he went far beyond mere advocacy. With the ‘sword of imagination’ he contrived to re-create and inhabit, in his ancestral central Michigan, Europe before the Enlightenment, and to captivate literally hundreds of disciples into following him there. Almost single-handedly he rooted the American conservative movement in the rich loam of the Western Christian tradition – and lived to see it triumph over its twentieth-century adversaries.”  William A. Rusher, Claremont Institute

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