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Herman Wouk

Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Abraham Isaac Wouk and <private> Wouk (Levine)
Widower of Betty Sarah Wouk
Father of Abraham Isaac Wouk; <private> Wouk; <private> Wouk and <private> Wouk
Brother of Irene Sara Green and Victor Wouk

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk is an American author, whose best-selling 1951 novel The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His other works include the highly acclaimed The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, historical novels about World War II, and non-fiction such as This Is My God, a popular explanation of Judaism from a Modern Orthodox perspective, written for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. His books have been translated into 27 languages. The Washington Post called Wouk, who cherishes his privacy, “the reclusive dean of American historical novelists.” Historians, novelists, publishers, and critics who gathered at the Library of Congress in 1995 to mark Wouk's 80th birthday likened him to "an American Tolstoy."

Wouk's latest book, which he says will be his last, is an autobiographical memoir entitled Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, and was released in January 2016 to mark his 100th birthday. NPR called it "a lovely coda to the career of a man who made American literature a kinder, smarter, better place."


Herman Wouk was born in New York City into a Jewish family that had emigrated from The Minsk area ( Ilja, Badanova and Kurenets). After a childhood and adolescence in the Bronx and a high school diploma from Townsend Harris High School, he earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1934, where he studied under philosopher Irwin Edman. Soon thereafter, he became a radio dramatist, working in David Freedman's "Joke Factory" and later with Fred Allen for five years then in 1941, for the United States government, writing radio spots to sell war bonds. He lived a fairly secular lifestyle in his early 20s before deciding to return to a more traditional Jewish way of life, modeled after his grandfather, in his mid-20s. From that day to the present, Wouk has commenced each day of his life with a reading of Scripture in Hebrew[citation needed].

Wouk joined the United States Navy and served in the Pacific Theater, an experience he later characterized as educational; "I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans." Wouk served as an officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers (DMS), the USS Zane and USS Southard, becoming executive officer of the latter. He started writing a novel, Aurora Dawn,[1] during off-duty hours aboard ship. Wouk sent a copy of the opening chapters to Irwin Edman who quoted a few pages verbatim to a New York editor. The result was a publisher's contract sent to Wouk's ship, then off the coast of Okinawa. The novel was published in 1947 and became a Book of the Month Club main selection. His second novel, City Boy, proved to be a commercial disappointment at the time of its initial publication in 1948; perhaps, as Wouk once claimed, it was swept away by the excitement over Norman Mailer's bestselling World War II novel The Naked and the Dead.

While writing his next novel, Wouk read each chapter as it was completed to his wife, who remarked at one point that if they didn't like this one, he'd better take up another line of work (a line he would give to the character of the editor Jeannie Fry in his 1962 novel Youngblood Hawke). The novel, The Caine Mutiny (1951), went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. A huge best-seller, drawing from his wartime experiences aboard minesweepers during World War II, The Caine Mutiny was adapted by the author into a Broadway play called The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, and was later made into a film, with Humphrey Bogart portraying Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg, captain of the fictional DMS Caine. Some Navy personnel complained at the time that Wouk had taken every twitch of every commanding officer in the Navy and put them all into one character, but Captain Queeg has endured as one of the great characters in American fiction.

He married Betty Sarah Brown in 1945, with whom he had three sons. He became a fulltime writer in 1946 to support his growing family. His first-born son, Abraham Isaac Wouk, died in a tragic accident as a child; Wouk later dedicated War and Remembrance (1978) to him with the Biblical words, "He will destroy death forever."

In 1998, Wouk received the Guardian of Zion Award. He and his wife currently live in Palm Springs, CA.

[edit] Writing

His novels after The Caine Mutiny include Marjorie Morningstar (1955), Youngblood Hawke (1962), and Don't Stop the Carnival (1965). In 1956 he published in paperback the novel Slattery's Hurricane, which he had written in 1948 as the basis for the screenplay for the film of the same name. Wouk's first work of non-fiction was 1959's This is My God, an explanation of Orthodox Judaism.

In the 1970s, Wouk published his two most ambitious novels, The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978). He described the latter, which included a devastating depiction of the Holocaust, as "the main tale I have to tell." Both were made into hugely popular TV miniseries. Although they were made several years apart, both were directed by Dan Curtis and both starred Robert Mitchum as Captain Victor "Pug" Henry, the main character.

The novels are ingeniously constructed historical fiction, so absorbing that Henry Kissinger called them at one point "the war itself." Each has three layers: the story told from the viewpoint of Captain Henry; a more or less straightforward historical account of the events of the war; and, most ingeniously, an analysis by a member of Hitler's military staff, the insightful General Armin von Roon, who would have been a major figure in world history, had he existed. There are many classic accounts in the novels, but perhaps most interesting are the bombing raid on Germany by British airmen before Pearl Harbor (Captain Henry joins them for a look see), in the first novel, and the Battle of Midway, in the second. The latter contains what one reviewer called a "remarkable roster call of American airmen sacrificed during the battle."

Wouk hired highly qualified young historians to assist him with the research for his later historical novels, and their details are highly accurate. They include putting together the "roster call" of Midway. Experts have described The Caine Mutiny as one of the best depictions of daily life aboard a US ship during the Second World War.

Wouk on Zionism

"Zionism is a single long action of lifesaving, of snatching great masses of people out of the path of sure extinction." (This is My God, first edition (1959), page 264.)

[edit] Library of Congress

Wouk has kept a personal diary since the 1930s. On September 10, 2008, Wouk formally presented the Library of Congress with his journals, now numbering over 90 volumes, in a ceremony which honored him with the first Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction.

Wouk often refers to his journals to check dates and facts in his writing, and was hesitant to let the originals out of his personal possession. A solution was arrived at: a scanning service bureau was selected to scan the entire set of volumes into digital formats.[2]

[edit] Selected works

Aurora Dawn (1947)

The Lomokome Papers (1947) (see )

City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder (1948)

The Traitor (1949 play)

The Caine Mutiny (1951)

A Modern Primitive (1952 Unpublished Play)

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1953 play)

Marjorie Morningstar (1955)

Slattery's Hurricane (1956)

Nature's Way (1957 play)

This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life (1959, revised ed. 1973) (non-fiction)

Youngblood Hawke (1961)

Don't Stop the Carnival (1965)

The Lomokome Papers (1968)

The Winds of War (1971)

War and Remembrance (1978)

Inside, Outside (1985)

The Hope (1993)

The Glory (1994)

The Will to Live on: The Resurgence of Jewish Heritage (2000)

A Hole in Texas (2004

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Herman Wouk's Timeline

May 27, 1915
New York, New York, United States
Age 30