Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk

"If [the artist] understands his responsibility and acts on it–taking the art seriously always, himself never quite–he can make a contribution equal to, if different from, that of the scientist, the politician, and the jurist."

Herman Wouk (1915- )
CC 1934

Hailed for writing compelling, richly detailed novels, Herman Wouk is best known for his fictional accounts of World War II, including The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. Wouk—pronounced woke—was a radio-comedy writer until he joined the U.S. Navy in 1942. He went on to serve aboard two destroyer-minesweepers in the Pacific theater, experience that he drew on in writing The Caine Mutiny (1951). The best-selling novel attracted widespread praise from critics and ultimately the Pulitzer Prize; it was adapted for the stage and made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. The sweeping Winds of War (1971) and its sequel, War and Remembrance (1978), would reach an even wider audience when they were adapted as television miniseries in the 1980s. Among Wouk's other novels and plays was the popular Marjorie Morningstar (1955), which told the story of a young Jewish woman: "I felt there's a wealth in Jewish tradition, a great inheritance," he told Time in 1955. "I'd be a jerk not to take advantage of it." Wouk had come to re-embrace his own Orthodox Judaism, and went on to write two reflections on Jewish life, This Is My God (1959) and The Will to Live On (2000). In April 2004, at the age of 88, Wouk published his latest novel, A Hole in Texas.

Wouk was raised in the Bronx by parents who had emigrated from Russia. He entered Columbia College at 16, writing for the Spectator and editing the Jester before graduating in 1934 at age 20. In the 1970s, Wouk endowed Beit Ephraim, a Jewish communal residence for Columbia students, and served on its advisory board for a number of years; for this he was honored in 2002 with one of the inaugural Gershom Mendes Seixas Awards, for outstanding contribution to Jewish life at Columbia. The same year Wouk celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Caine Mutiny with a reading at Columbia. Many of his papers—including the 2,119-page manuscript for Mutiny—are preserved in the University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. He received the College's Alexander Hamilton Medal for distinguished service and accomplishment in 1980.

Read more about Wouk in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Fifty years later, Wouk reflects on his Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Little, Brown provides an excerpt from Wouk's latest novel here.

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