Anybody who knows anything about Roger Scruton will find in this book a bit more. If you have read a lot because you can’t get enough, well here’s a substantial bit more. If you have read a little and are somewhat curious, here is a compendium: you’ll get something about everything he has done and quite a bit of biographical illumination. It is a book to enjoy and to think about, and that makes it one of the better books.
Biographically, it is an excellent work. An Irish admirer of Scruton interviewed him at home for three days, and then shaped those interviews into this book. I can’t imagine how anybody could do a better job of something like this than Mark Dooley has: good questions, thorough understanding, sympathy, the briefest of explanations and interjections, well-structured, completely interesting throughout because there is a clear and important focus of interest. There is a biographical feel also in that the structure is loosely chronological: we begin with Scruton’s childhood, his student years, and then work through the major changes and situations of his life, while reflecting on his books and thought. I found it illuminating in many ways, and thought-provoking. The hostility and setbacks that Scruton has faced in this world simply for pointing out bad arguments, for example, have not been inconsiderable. You gain a fuller understanding of what his work means, as a result. And that is the focus Dooley has: coming to terms with the thought of this thoughtful human being. Scruton has ranged widely, and what holds it all together is the man.
The most disappointing chapter was the one on religion. I had hoped for more. You should not think, however, that it is an uninteresting chapter. It does help you understand him and his work, and really it is foolish to expect more. Still, I had hoped for more.
The best chapter in the book is the one on living as a writer. That is principally what Scruton views as his vocation, and the book gives you a glimpse of all the elements that have gone into this. Two observations you may find alluring. “People are not interested in what you write if they do not sense the person behind it.” The oddest thing about this statement is that in its context, which I do not here provide, it is a statement of personal modesty. Whatever his faults, the humility of Roger Scruton is striking, and Dooley has figured out how to display this rare and elusive quality. “A great writer is someone . . . who can put himself completely into the mind of another person and find the language that will both express and vindicate a way of being that is not his own.”