Best Known For
Herman Wouk is best known for his novel The Caine Mutiny.
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Wouk's second novel failed to attract much attention, but his third, The Caine Mutiny, which had grown out of Wouk's own experiences in the Navy, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952. In 1954, it was adapted into both a major motion picture, starring Humphrey Bogart, and a Broadway play, starring Henry Fonda, renamed The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Although his next novel,
Marjorie Morningstar, did not enjoy the same success, it was turned into a 1958 movie starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. Wouk's first work of nonfiction, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life, was published in 1959 and aimed to explain Orthodox Judaism to Jews and non-Jews alike.
In the 1960s, Herman Wouk turned to historical topics, spending thirteen years researching World War II and the Holocaust to write The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978). He considered the works to be "the story I have to tell." Both were adapted into TV miniseries, for which Wouk wrote the screenplays and even made cameo acting appearances. "The films of The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar always seemed to me mere thin skims of the story lines," Wouk said, "and I never did see a meager Hollywood caper called Youngblood Hawke, vaguely based on my 800-page novel. So it was that I opted for television, with its much broader time limits, for The Winds of War. Sixteen hours!"
Continuing in the vein of works inspired by history, Wouk wrote two novels based on real Israeli historical events, The Hope (1993) and The Glory (1994). These novels interweave real and fictional characters. A firm supporter of the state of Israel, Wouk once wrote, "Zionism is a single long action of lifesaving, of snatching great masses of people out of the path of sure extinction."
In 2008, Wouk turned over all of his journals to the Library of Congress. This was no small matter: Wouk had been keeping journals since the 1930s, and his total collection numbered more than 90 volumes. The institution then awarded him the very first Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction.
Now nearly 100 years old, and faced with the death of his wife in 2011 due to a stroke, Wouk has still not given up writing. His latest work, The Language God Talks (2010), is partly based on conversations that Wouk had with the physicist Richard Feynmann, who once told Wouk that calculus "is the language God talks." The book explores the drama of human existence and the stage on which it takes place. Wouk explains, "This is the subject I've been thinking about my whole life." He wished for the work to be "a book telling of my religious faith in a frame of modern science, not necessarily a Big One, but a work I felt born to give the world. Not being a scientist at all, I was a fool to dream of accomplishing this, but novelists are fools whose dreams every now and then take form, see the light, and last."
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