Herman Wouk, Perennially Best-Selling Author, Dies at 103 – The New York Times

Herman Wouk in an undated photo. His taut shipboard drama “The Caine Mutiny” lifted him to the top of the best-seller lists, where he remained for most of a career that extended past his 100th year.CreditCreditCarl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Herman Wouk, whose taut shipboard drama “The Caine Mutiny” lifted him to the top of the best-seller lists, where he remained for most of a career that extended past his 100th year thanks to page-turners like “Marjorie Morningstar,” “Youngblood Hawke” and the World War II epics “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” died early Friday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 103.

His death, just 10 days before his 104th birthday, was confirmed by his literary agent, Amy Rennert. She said he had been working on another book when he died, although, as was his custom, he had declined to discuss its subject until it was finished.

A whipping boy for reviewers who at best grudgingly acknowledged his narrative skill, Mr. Wouk (pronounced woke) enthralled millions of readers in search of a good story, snappy dialogue and stirring events, rendered with a documentarian’s sense of authenticity and detail.

The critics could be brutal. “He can compete with the worst of television because he is the worst of television, without the commercials,” Stanley Edgar Hyman wrote in 1966, describing Mr. Wouk’s readers as “yahoos who hate culture and the mind.”

His place in the literary universe was difficult to pinpoint. Did he belong with the irredeemably middlebrow James Gould Cozzens and Thomas B. Costain, or popular but respectable writers like John P. Marquand and James Michener? His novels provided ammunition for both sides.

[Read about the psychological insight of some of Mr. Wouk’s most important novels.]

“I’ve been absolutely dead earnest and I’ve told the story I had in hand as best as I possibly could,” he told an interviewer for the New York Public Library in the 1970s. “I have never sought an audience. It may be that I am not a very involved or a very beautiful or a very anything writer, but I’ve done the level best I can.”

Herman Wouk in 1951.CreditLarry C. Morris/The New York Times

He did so for a very long time. His first novel, “Aurora Dawn,” was published in 1947. When “The Lawgiver,” his comic novel about the making of a film dealing with the prophet Moses, was published in 2012, his career was well into its seventh decade and he was approaching the century mark.

Mr. Wouk immediately began writing his next book. “What am I going to do?” he said in an interview with The Times in November 2012. “Sit around and wait a year?”

In 2016, the year he turned 100, Mr. Wouk published what he said was his last book: a memoir, “Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-old Author.” He said that such a project had first been suggested to him in the 1980s, but that his wife had discouraged it, saying, “You’re not that interesting a person.”

Herman Wouk was born on May 27, 1915, in the Bronx, to Abraham and Esther (Levine) Wouk. His father, an immigrant from Minsk, had started out sorting and marking laundry for $3 a week but rose to become president of an industrial steam-laundry business. Herman, the middle child of three, excelled at school and earned a place at Townsend Harris High School, an accelerated three-year public institution for gifted students in Manhattan.

At Columbia University, where he majored in comparative literature and philosophy, he studied with Irwin Edman, a philosopher whose conservative skepticism temporarily led him away from the Orthodox Judaism in which he was raised and that later became a mainstay of his personal life and the subject of a best-selling nonfiction book, “This Is My God” (1959), and a follow-up, “The Language God Talks” (2010).

While at Columbia he wrote a humor column for The Spectator, the campus newspaper; edited The Jester, a humor magazine; and dreamed of a career writing farces for the Broadway stage. Through a classmate, he found work after graduation as an apprentice radio gag writer. The job, to his dismay, entailed cataloging old comedy routines and cleaning up salty vaudeville jokes for reuse.

In 1936 he became a staff writer for the radio comedian Fred Allen. One of his duties was to rustle up oddballs like a goldfish doctor and a worm salesman for a segment called “People You Didn’t Expect to Meet.” Within a few years he was earning $500 a week — the equivalent of close to $9,000 today, a very impressive salary during the Depression.

Mr. Wouk’s books were fixtures on best-seller lists. His last book was the memoir “Sailor and Fiddler.”

Mr. Wouk’s books were fixtures on best-seller lists. His last book was the memoir “Sailor and Fiddler.”

Mr. Wouk enlisted in the Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor, entered midshipman’s school and was posted as a radio officer to the U.S.S. Zane, a destroyer-minesweeper operating in the South Pacific.

He told an interviewer for The New York Post in 1956 that his time in the Navy had been the greatest experience of his life. “I had known two worlds, the wiseguys of Broadway and the wiseguys of Columbia — two small worlds that sometimes take themselves for the whole world,” he said. “In the Navy I found out more than I ever had about people and about the United States.”

While aboard ship he read “Don Quixote,” a book that turned his ambitions from the stage to novel writing. He sent four chapters of “Aurora Dawn,” a satire about radio admen, to Mr. Edman, his college professor, who placed it with Simon & Schuster. Published in 1947, the book sold reasonably well despite tepid reviews, as did his semi-autobiographical novel “The City Boy” (1948).

With “The Caine Mutiny,” Mr. Wouk struck gold. A crackling drama on the high seas leading up to a riveting courtroom scene, it introduced readers to the unforgettable Capt. Philip F. Queeg, a seething blend of paranoia and incompetence, constantly fiddling anxiously with two steel ball bearings in his left hand. When he steers the ship toward certain disaster in a typhoon, his junior officers remove him from command, an act for which they later face court-martial.

The book, which sold more than three million copies in the United States alone, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952 and was made into a movie in 1954 with Humphrey Bogart as Queeg. Mr. Wouk adapted the courtroom sections of the novel into a hit Broadway play, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which opened the same year as the film, with Lloyd Nolan in the starring role.

He had already made his Broadway debut in 1949 with “The Traitor,” about a scientist who delivers atomic secrets to the Soviets. He would later return to Broadway with a forgettable comedy, “Nature’s Way,” in 1957.

In “Marjorie Morningstar,” published in 1955, Mr. Wouk returned to civilian life. His heroine, a middle-class Jewish girl who dreams of becoming an actress, changes her name from Morgenstern to Morningstar, falls in love with and loses her virginity to a pretentious would-be playwright, and learns to settle, happily, for life as a wife and mother in suburban Westchester. “You couldn’t write a play about her that would run a week, or a novel that would sell a thousand copies,” an old beau remarks after visiting her in middle age.

Mr. Wouk in 1989. “I’ve been absolutely dead earnest, and I’ve told the story I had in hand as best as I possibly could,” he told an interviewer.

Mr. Wouk in 1989. “I’ve been absolutely dead earnest, and I’ve told the story I had in hand as best as I possibly could,” he told an interviewer.CreditABC Photo Archives, via Getty Images

For Mr. Wouk, this was the point. “My novel is a story of young love, a picture of the manners and attitudes of courtship in the United States nowadays,” he wrote in The American Weekly, noting, without criticism, that his heroine’s fate, like that of nearly all American girls, was to lead “a conventional, anonymous existence.”

His sympathy for the middle-class virtues led Time magazine to call him “a Sinclair Lewis in reverse.” Reviewing “Marjorie Morningstar” for The Times, the critic Maxwell Geismar shrewdly focused on it as a drama of Jewish assimilation, “the tragicomic meeting of traditional Jewish culture and the American success myth.”

The novel inspired the 1958 film of the same name, with Natalie Wood in the title role and Gene Kelly as her feckless boyfriend.

Mr. Wouk delivered another blockbuster with “Youngblood Hawke” (1962), which in nearly 800 pages chronicled the creative torments, red-hot passions and financial ups and downs of a writer loosely based on Thomas Wolfe. Unabashedly old-fashioned in style, it remained faithful, Mr. Wouk wrote in The New York Times Book Review, to “the enduring disciplines of narrative,” which cannot guarantee success but “compel the writer of fiction to be true to his task.”

By 1958 Mr. Wouk had moved to the Virgin Islands, an interlude that produced the slight, poorly received comic novel “Don’t Stop the Carnival” (1965). At the same time he began planning an epic-scale novel dealing with World War II, and in 1964 he moved to Washington to do research at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. In pursuit of eyewitness documentation, he also traveled around the world to interview surviving military leaders.

In truth, the book had been gestating for decades. Soon after he finished “The Caine Mutiny,” he told an NPR interviewer in 2004, he wrote in his journal, “Unless I’m mistaken, this is a good book, but it is not yet the war novel I mean to write.”

In the end he wrote two war novels: “The Winds of War” (1971), which covered the period from the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939 to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and “War and Remembrance” (1978), which carried the story forward through the great military campaigns of the war, concluding with the liberation of the concentration camps and the dropping of the atom bomb.


Mr. Wouk in his home office in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2012.CreditStephanie Diani for The New York Times

Like “War and Peace,” whose sweep and ambition served as a model, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” jumped back and forth from the battlefield to the home front. Historic events and domestic life intersected in the experiences of one American family, headed by the naval commander Victor Henry, nicknamed Pug.

In returning to the world of “The Caine Mutiny,” Mr. Wouk won back many of the critics who had written him off. His two war novels, totaling nearly 2,000 pages, gave a rousing account of great events, informed by painstaking research. If Pug Henry seemed to show up, unaccountably, at the elbow of every great leader in the war at one historic turning point after another, Mr. Wouk’s breathtaking narrative pace, skillful stage management and flair for wide-screen spectacle tended to drown out the criticism.

With Mr. Wouk’s help, both novels were translated into successful television mini-series starring Robert Mitchum as Pug Henry. The first installment of “The Winds of War,” broadcast in 1983 on ABC, attracted 80 million viewers, and more than half the available television audience tuned in as it unfolded over seven days. “War and Remembrance,” an even more lavish production extending over 30 hours at a cost of more than $110 million, was broadcast in 1988 but attracted a smaller audience.

After writing the autobiographical novel “Inside, Outside” (1985), Mr. Wouk applied his epic formula to modern Israel in “The Hope” and “The Glory,” both published in 1994 to generally unenthusiastic reviews. Readers were guided through Israel’s turbulent history — from its founding to its three major wars and on into the 1980s — by Zev Barak, a noble scholar-warrior on hand to experience all important battles and diplomatic negotiations.

A conversation with his brother, Victor, an electrical engineer who once worked on the Manhattan Project, provided Mr. Wouk with the subject matter for “A Hole in Texas” (2004), a scientific soap opera about a supercollider project in Waxahachie, Tex., abandoned by the government.

With “The Lawgiver,” Mr. Wouk broke with his traditional style of narration and told his tale in a modernized epistolary style, using letters, memos, emails, Twitter posts and text messages written by his characters. He also returned to Simon & Schuster, the publishers of his first novel.

Mr. Wouk’s wife, Betty (Brown) Wouk, who represented him after founding the BSW Literary Agency in 1979, died in 2011. His brother died in 2005. A son, Abraham, died in a childhood accident. He is survived by two children, Iolanthe Woulff and Joseph Wouk; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

On the question of his reputation, Mr. Wouk took a philosophical line.

“In the long run justice is done,” he told Writer’s Digest in 1966. “In the short run geniuses, minor writers and mountebanks alike take their chance. Imaginative writing is a wonderful way of life, and no man who can live by it should ask for more.”

stated the given name of the protagonist of Mr. Wouk’s novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” He is Victor Henry, not Vincent.

William McDonald contributed reporting.

David Andrew Henry commented 10 hours ago

David Andrew Henry
Chicxulub Puerto Yucatan Mexico

Must read: “Don’t Stop the Carnival”. I tell every wannabe restauranteur that they should buy a case of Tequila and the book. And a hamaca!!!

James Thurber commented 10 hours ago

James Thurber
Mountain View, CA

Alas, Herbie Bookbinder is dead. Wouk’s brilliant work The City Boy, was ignored until The Caine Mutiny became a best seller. I grew up with Herbie Bookbinder and his trip to Camp Manatou. I found the book truly enlightening. Mister Wouk, thank you for a job VERY, very well done and Rest in Peace Sir, you’ve earned it.

Daniel commented 10 hours ago


Definitely old school American male–he fights in World War Two, writes an iconoclastic book on the war with “The Caine Mutiny” and lives to be almost 104. Tried to see him being a Naval Veteran myself, but even after age 100, he was simply a very busy man–still writing until the very end. He will be missed. Both the stage and movie versions of his Caine Mutiny had drawings by the imitable Al Hirschfeld (courtesy of Paul Gregory.) Hmmm, now I’m craving strawberries…

Lesothoman commented 10 hours ago

New York City

I first read The Caine Mutiny and saw the film decades ago. Yet Wouk was such a master, I never forgot the character of Captain Queeg, and immediately recognized him in our newly elected president in 2016. In my estimation, that makes Wouk a great writer. While he may not have been Shakespeare, how many writers can create a character who remains indelibly etched into our brains and gut? Moreover, the mutiny and attendant trial of the mutineers is a masterful presentation of human cowardice and how it leads people to do all sorts of reprehensible things. In this way too, Wouk anticipated Trump and the cowards who have condemned him privately but have remained mum in public, which is where condemnation would count. Like all remarkable artists, Wouk taught us much about this life of ours.

Mike Ewer commented 10 hours ago

Mike Ewer

How many of us have had a Marjorie Morningstar in our past–perfection in our eyes and minds at all levels, only to discover years later how lucky we were to have dodged a bullet. Thank you, Mr. Wouk, for countless hours of joy, compassion, education, wisdom, and most of all, for wonderful memories brought back though your genius.

Lyndsey commented May 18

Fort Worth

I read The City Boy and Marjorie Morningstar when I was about 11 or 12 (my aunt looked askance when I asked to borrow the latter, but my mother OK’d it). Now I need to re-read both to see if I enjoy them as much. I think I will.

GP commented May 18


I read The Caine Mutiny in the days before I was inducted into the Navy back in the early 60s. it shaped the way I saw and experienced my years in the service. I wasn’t surprised when I encountered arbitrary authority and incompetence. I expected it, in fact. But I also saw that guys did their jobs in spite of their bad attitudes. This remains one of my main memories of the Navy. Hard work and competence accompanied by continual griping. I think that’s how most folks experience the military.

Jane de Winter commented May 18

Jane de Winter
Montgomery County, MD

In the early 1980’s, every few months when the phone rang at my group house on Garfield St. NW it was someone asking to speak with Mr. Herman Wouk. A fan since I read Marjorie Morningstar as a teen, it was a kick to have inherited his phone number. RIP

PL commented May 18


Another genius centenarian dies, days before his 104th birthday, while working on another novel. This follows the news of the death of I. M. Pei, whose architectural achievements defined the culture of the 20th and early 21st centuries. I have to laugh at the narrow-minded millenials, who have no appreciation for anything but themselves, who claim that 70-year-olds are too old to be president.

Leigh commented May 18


No mention of City Boy? For this reader at twelve or so the simultaneous introduction to NYC street life and the power of fiction to create a world wherein one could lose oneself for blessed hours on end. RIP Herman Wouk, the proof is in the hearty pudding.

Don commented May 18


I still chuckle at the report in War and Remembrance of the Russian order for condoms as part of the Lend-Lease deliveries. I’ve always wondered if that tale was truth or fiction.

Chris commented May 18

Bethesda MD

In the summer of 1974 I was 14, and all three networks were broadcasting the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon. With nothing on tv, I made a trip to my public library, where the librarian recommended “The Caine Mutiny”. I checked it out and stayed up two nights reading it. Later on I discovered The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, both of which had me riveted from the opening page until the last word. While serving as a junior officer on a destroyer patrolling the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, I devoured Marjorie Morningstar. While stationed in DC during the dot.com bubble of the 90s, I read Youngblood Hawke, which has to be the best novel I’ve ever read on success and ruin. I’ve compared every other novelist to Herman Wouk, and none have come close. Mr. Wouk, thank you for entertaining me, educating me, and sharing your Jewish faith with me. You made my life richer.

badubois commented May 18

New Hampshire

For bringing World II to life with his fiction via “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance”, he should be honored and cherished for years to come

Deirdre commented May 18

New Jersey

I loved Marjorie Morningstar!

Wendi commented May 18

Chico ca

Winds of War was one of the best books I’ve ever read. RIP Herman Wouk

SE commented May 18


Because of my literary crush on Noel Airman, I read every recommendation he made to Marjorie Morgenstern.

HaroldS commented May 18


Until I’d read the obituaries today, I’d had no idea that Wouk was viewed as middling by a large part of the literary elite. It explains much as why he rarely granted interviews; Granville Hicks’ demeaning 1971 review in the Times sneers at his ‘indifference to quality…formula…and failure of imagination.’ One particular criticism is particularly amusing in retrospect, “Even Pug Henry (is) never (a) living human being.” In 1995, Wouk accepted an award by the Naval Institute and gave a talk on how he developed Pug, largely because for professional Naval officers he’d created a beloved hero that long demanded explanation. (Wouk’s explanation was that Pug was a comer who had just enough bad luck in his career so that he stood no chance of becoming CNO.) Wouk’s own professional reputation was such that authors of specialist literature like the Battle of Samar and Spruance consulted him with their drafts throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s. About the only disagreement that’s emerged was that Wouk was far kinder to King than more modern historians; on the rest, both political and military, his research is still widely respected. Wouk may thus have been the only writer capable of both combining the details of the war and Holocaust and making it grandly accessible to those of us too young to have experienced it. Perhaps he wasn’t the most brilliant technical writer, but man, could he tell a story, and without him we’d never have had one that desperately needed telling.

sharon5101 commented May 18

Rockaway Park

The Jewish literary canon just got a little smaller with the passing of Herman Wouk. First we lost Philip Roth last year and now Herman Wouk is gone too. Shalom to these great literary titans.

A. Stanton commented May 18

A. Stanton
Dallas, TX

If you clink on the link that begins this article, you can watch a wonderful lecture that Mr. Wouk delivered when he received an award from the University of California at San Diego in September 2001. In it you will see him proudly wearing a yarmulka. Class always tells.

George Jochnowitz commented May 18

George Jochnowitz
New York

Wouk’s memoir SAILOR AND FIDDLER was completed when he was 100. I was utterly amazed that this book received almost no attention, since it was written by some who was that old, and since its author had been so remarkably famous. Here is my own review: http://jochnowitz.net/Essays/Sailor-And-Fiddler-M.html

David DiRoma commented May 18

David DiRoma
Baldwinsville NY

I read Winds of War and War and Remembrance during a year I spent as a traveling photographer. Thanks Mr. Wouk for entertaining and entrancing stories.

MHZ commented May 18


“Marjorie Morningstar” was my first “grown up” book. It was the early 60s, I was 11, and my best friend and I “borrowed” it from her older sister. I had to hide it from my mother, (but then I had to hide everything from my mother). I went on to read every book he wrote, which probably has something to do with my life long fascination with World War II. Thank you, Mr. Wouk

My Little Egg commented May 18

My Little Egg
Mystic Island, New Jersey

I spent my teenage years devouring all of Mr. Wouk’s books. After finding “The Caine Mutiny” lying around the house I read it within a couple of hours, unable to put it down. I then moved on to most of the others and clearly remember how affected I was with “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” stories. O Absalom — My Son, My Son!

Doug Terry commented May 18

Doug Terry
Maryland, Washington DC metro

If one were to look carefully at the forest instead of the trees, it becomes apparent that war is the longest running event in human history. War is the basic business of civilization? Perhaps that is overstating the case, but there is no doubt that war, leaving aside clean water, food and shelter, is the prime organizing force of nations. We are warriors as a first order of business. In writing about this state of being, Wouk did us all a grand favor and, as it seems, he lived a good and full life through that work, all the better.

Zejee commented May 18


I will never forget Marjorie Morning Star. How wonderful to be able to give enjoyment to so many people all over the world for so many years and years to come.

frankly 32 commented May 18

frankly 32
by the sea

So what were his gifts and techniques that made him so effective in spite of establishment disdain?


Doug Terry commented 10 hours ago

Doug Terry
Maryland, Washington DC metro

@frankly 32 He said that he followed the rules of narrative structure. That is probably also why “high brow” critics looked down their noses at him, he wasn’t breaking new ground or revealing something that hadn’t been exposed before but was showing human nature in known circumstances of war. He was plowing through stories rather than breaking new ground. Entertaining? Yes. I haven’t read all of his books but it strikes me that some of them struggled to reach the mediocre. Not every time at bat is a home run but so what? A novelist, or any artist, who dedicates to the task and keeps moving forward should be honored for his or her best accomplishments and remembered well.

ALLEN GILLMAN commented May 18


Wouk was a very good story teller, but his stories were like the old Hollywood westerns of my youth – devoid of ambivalence and therefore extremely satisfying to those who followed the rules. For those who did not there would be no happy ending. For example, the message of “Marjorie Morningstar” to young women who read it could be cruel. Those who strayed from the narrow and brightly lit path would be exploited, disappointed and ultimately recognize the error of their ways and of course marry a doctor.


Been There commented 10 hours ago

Been There
New York, NY

@ALLEN GILLMAN Marjorie marries a lawyer, not a doctor. And there are many astute observations sprinkled throughout the novel. By the way, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Herman Wouk in 1980 and he was a truly extraordinary man. And very humble! It was a thrill to meet him, something I’ve never forgotten.

Ruth B commented 10 hours ago

Ruth B

‘Marrying a doctor’ didn’t mean your life or your marriage were going to be secure and chock full of cherries… those were 50’s mores… thank god for Woodstock Nation, and yeah even WOUK had to acknowledge that times-were-a-Changing ’ and not just for Sweet young things… I thought it was strange casting Natalie Wood, and Gene Kelly… in Marjorie Morningstar -both far more articulate and talented in so many of their later films…Natalie’s star keeps shining despite her tragic death, and Gene Kelly will always be dancing away in Paris, and to the Sound of Music…

caharper commented May 18


listen critics, we cant all be rhodes scholars reading joyce and proust, we middlebrow folks needed wouk and michener and uris to teach us about life beyond our small towns. i had no idea he was still alive but i sure loved his books in the 50s and 60s.

JoeBlaustein commented May 18


a small claim to fame, we both attended Townsend Harris, both majored in philosophy, both enlisted in the navy and served as officers on ‘tin cans’, but our parents were immigrants from Russia–and there the comparison stops. However The Caine Mutiny so impacted me, having spent 2 years at sea, it was one of my favorite war novels…and at 95 I’m writing about those years and many others while my hippocampus still works.


Naomi commented May 18


@JoeBlaustein I clicked on this obituary because my grandfather taught at Townsend Harris and I’m pretty sure Herman Wouk was one of his students. My grandfather’s name was Solomon Hurwitz — he taught math there starting around 1930, I believe, and stayed until the school was closed down.

Doug Terry commented 10 hours ago

Doug Terry
Maryland, Washington DC metro

@JoeBlaustein Please keep on writing your own “war and remembrances” and, if at all possible, share the writing with the world at large. The Library of Congress has a WW II project on-going, so you might contact them to see if they would take your manuscript. There is also Amazon’s CreateSpace as a place for self publishing. Best of good fortune in getting your stories down on paper.

DMS commented May 18

San Diego

Read both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance on a tuna boat off the coast of New Zealand in 1980. “Read” doesn’t quite describe it. I was completely submerged in them. Loved that Pug Henry, always in the action.

KHC commented May 18

Memphis, TN

We did not have — could not afford — children’s books when I was a child, but my much older siblings subscribed to book clubs, and I read what they ordered and loved Herman Wouk’s work from about the age of 10 or 12. I later learned the work was not well regarded by critics, but I found them entrancing. RIP, Mr. Wouk.

JANET MICHAEL commented May 18

Silver Spring
Times Pick

You describe the poorly received comic novel,”Don’t Stop The Carnival” written about his experience running a hotel in the Virgin Islands.I can attest to the fact that it is still a must read for anyone who owns property there.His follies still resonate and make us laugh -so little has changed in the nearly sixty years ago when he wrote it.He captured the frustrations of this remote area but also the adventure and joy.My copy of “Carnival” has survived three hurricanes there.


Doug Terry commented 10 hours ago

Doug Terry
Maryland, Washington DC metro

@JANET MICHAEL You are correct. That books is something of a bible in the Caribbean, exposing the follies and false hopes of those who travel to the islands hoping to find a new way of life and forget the mistakes they made in the old one. You can find it in guest houses, hotels and rental properties throughout the archipelago of the islands to this day.

itsmildeyes commented May 18


Perfect time to reread The Caine Mutiny, while we have our own Captain rattling ball bearings in his pocket.


Geo commented May 18

west palm beach

Best comment of the day. Right on

Shutupdonny commented May 18


I, too, was swept up in Wouk’s worlds in the Winds of War/War & Remembrance and am forever grateful. As a teenager in a small Kansas town I knew of my father’s WWII POW experiences but had little knowledge or experience of Jewish life. I raced through the novels, and the maddening travails of Aaron and Natalie Jastrow and the feckless state department response helped fuel a lifelong search for justice; I currently work for an international NGO. And as already pointed out, the description of the Battle of Midway and the almost inconceivable “coincidences” that caused apparent US missteps to forge a perfectly imperfect balanced attack built on the selfless sacrifice of pilots guiding lumbering torpedo planes to almost certain death (but ultimate victory) brings tears to my eyes as I type this. RIP, Mr. Wouk.

SomeGuy commented May 18


Reading the obituary, and the comments, one question came to mind: how well are his books selling now? Are there any readily available statistics on that, outside of Amazon rankings? Many of the comments were damning by faint praise, or apologetic in describing their affection for his work. It would be interesting to find out if the longevity of his work in any way approaches the longevity of the author.

Rodgerlodger commented May 18


Most underrated author of this time — or is that a contradiction in terms?

Michael Livingston commented May 18

Michael Livingston
Cheltenham PA

I remember when he was quite a hero to some people in the Jewish Community.

CABOT commented May 18

Denver, CO

RIP Herman Wouk. His “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” are the most gripping novels about World War II ever written–even counting James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.” I’ve read both of Wouks magnificent books at least three times. Their detail, accuracy and suspense never fail to excite me. His description of Aaron Jastrow’s final walk to the gas chambers of Auschwitz is both historically accurate and heartbreaking. If his work isn’t placed next on the shelf to Tolstoy, they will fit very comfortably next to Hemingway, Melville, McMurtry and other great writers of American historical fiction. Wouk was one of our best.

Linda Trotta commented May 18

Linda Trotta

I just had chills when I read that Herman Wouk died in the early morning hours. Just hours before his death I completed War and Remembrance….for the fourth time. Winds of War and War and Remembrance are two books that I learn something new from each time I read them. Herman Wouk was a brilliant writer. By crafting together numerous narratives by numerous characters in different voices from all over, one really does begin to grasp the all encompassing canvas of World War II. The two mini series, though entertaining in their own right, don’t begin to give justice to these books. The last two times I’ve read these books have been post the 2016 election. There are so many parallels between what we are seeing in our country now and what was happening in Germany in the 1930s . Herman Wouk has so much to say about our complacency regarding our Democracy. I read these books for the hope and comfort that our country may be able to survive all this just as it did survive World War II. But at the same time, I am disheartened by how many of our citizens do not seem to have learned from or care about history, such that it seems we may be destined to repeat some form of Germany’s dark past.

Lee Downie commented May 18

Lee Downie
Henrico, NC

Wouk also wrote a piece called “The Lomokome Papers” which was serialized in Life Magazine. But he never mentions it in “Sailor: Fiddler”… nor does anyone else. Why?

Susan Stevens commented May 18

Susan Stevens

I always thought Marjorie Morningstar was the inspiration for Dirty Dancing…..


Ruth B commented 10 hours ago

Ruth B

That’s got to be the FUNNIEST LINE I EVER READ! seriously..,

Gardengirl commented May 18

Down South

While awaiting the birth of my first child, when my spouse was in the military, I visited the base library almost every day. During that long, lazy summer before my daughter was born, I read every Herman Wouk book on the shelves. RIP, Mr. Wouk.

Steve commented May 18

Sonora, CA

A completely different side of Wouk is “The Lomokome Papers” which has great relevance in this age of industrialized warfare. And I also like Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke, Caine Mutiny, and the War pair. Although the latter are a bit tedious in parts.

creepingdoubt commented May 18

New York, NY US

“The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” is a spellbinding play. I’ll never forget an astonishing production I saw in Los Angeles in the ’70s, starring a rapt, deeply scary Hume Cronyn as Lt. Commander Queeg, directed by Henry Fonda (who’d acted in the play on Broadway as Barney Greenwald). Fonda’s direction was a thing of beauty. Throughout, the actors entered and exited the courtroom in tight military formations, with the story’s themes of discipline vs. impinging madness ticking like a bomb. As for the novel “The Winds of War”, it’s well to remember that Gore Vidal, no pushover as a book critic, called it “superb” in the pages of The New York Review of Books.

Katrink commented May 18


I loved “City Boy” – a charming adventure story about a most unlikely hero.

Sophia commented May 18


A life well lived!

Ed commented May 18


Herman Wouk on “What’s My Line” (1955): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x80OFBOaBFU

ReadingLips commented May 17

San Diego, CA

“…reviewers who at best grudgingly acknowledged his narrative skill…” Heh. I read The Winds of War (the first time) in one week, commuting on the train between jobs in Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE. In all, I read it cover to cover three times. War and Remembrance had me in tears, particularly the section when Natalie and Byron meet up by calculated happenstance in Paris, where she has gone to protect herself and their child from the death camps. In response to her promise that she will love him until they die, Byron responds, “You and I will never die. Don’t you know that?” I read that one, cover to cover, twice. Having both of them turned into mini-series was the subject of an entire job interview at Columbia University – even though the position a the dean’s office had nothing to with literature. At the end of the hour, I told the interviewer we should have talked more about the job. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. I got the job. Narrative was just part of his talent. He wrote characters who had passion and dialogue that brought them alive. Reviewers who think “he is the worst of television, without the commercials” wouldn’t know a master writer if they read one.

MD Monroe commented May 17

MD Monroe
Hudson Valley

Loved the Wins of War. So sue me.

M.E. commented May 17


I loved Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds Of War, and War And Remembrance. I haven’t read the Caine Mutiny. Yet. Soon.

A. Stanton commented May 17

A. Stanton
Dallas, TX

Yiddishkeit and the story of America were integral to his life and his writing. I don’t believe we’ll soon see another writer comparable to him.

Fabrisse commented May 17

Washington DC

This is My God was on my parents bookshelf when I was growing up, so it was the first book of Mr. Wouk’s that I read. Marjorie Morningstar was a great book for a teenager at summer camp. And The Caine Mutiny was an eye opener in many ways, and on my way to Europe with my (military) family in the late 1970s, I remember reading both Winds of War and War and Remembrance which helped me put together the history of the places I was going to live and visit. He was a good writer to introduce a subject. Later I would read more sophisticated works or classics on similar topics, but I found the framework his novels gave me were helpful in absorbing and organizing the history.

JND commented May 17

Abilene, Texas

Wonderful books! Wonderful stories. Thank you, Mr. Wouk!

Lyn Elkind commented May 17

Lyn Elkind
Times Pick

Although I always loved the Caine Mutiny, while I was studying to convert to Judaism, I read This Is My God. It steered me towards a greater real world understanding of a new faith and grounded me for many years. Thank you Mr. Wouk.

DD commented May 17


C’mon, people! I can’t be the only guy who read The Caine Mutiny because it was on my high school reading list. Even though it couldn’t compete with Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-5 in terms of what spoke to us in the 70s, it was still a fun, engrossing read.

cleo commented May 17

new jersey

The typhoon scene in The Caine Mutiny is the most exciting narrative I have ever read and better than anything I have seen on film.

Henry Kisor commented May 17

Henry Kisor
Evanston, Ill.

I was a newspaper lit crit and I liked Wouk. So sue me.

DSM14 commented May 17

Westfield NJ

Whenever I read snarky comments about best-selling authors, I view it as a combination of arrogance and envy.


Rodgerlodger commented May 18


@DSM14 Shakespeare’s plays were beloved by the ordinary people.

Charles Steindel commented May 17

Charles Steindel
Glen Ridge, NJ

All economists treasure The Caine Mutiny. The top student in the novel’s midshipmen’s school is a fellow named Tobit. Based on the top student of Wouk’s class–the future Nobel Prize winner, James Tobin.

Sarah Crane Chaisen commented May 17

Sarah Crane Chaisen

Besides being educational about regarding all aspects of the war, it’s operations, politics and in humanities/humanities, his books captured American domestic and social life and offered great roles for actors, i e, Natalie Wood, Robert Mitchum, etc…

Paul commented May 17


Billboard in the background is advertising the Broadway show “A View from the Bridge”, which opened in September 1955 and ran ran 149 performances – or ≈ 19 weeks. That establishes a date window for this “undated” photo.


Paul commented May 17


@Paul: actually, that’s the billboard for the DeMille movie theater over Wouk’s left shoulder. The movie version of “A View from the Bridge” was playing there in March 1962. Plus the headline on the newspaper may refer to John Glenn – a headline figure indeed at that time.

John Collinge commented May 17

John Collinge
Bethesda, Md

@Paul I disagree. The play was adapted for a movie in 1962. Mr. Wouk is holding a newspaper that looks to have a front page story on John Glenn’s 1962 Mercury space flight.

Phyliss Dalmatian commented May 17

Phyliss Dalmatian
Wichita, Kansas

The photo was taken on March 01, 1962. Photo by Carl Mydans. Available for purchase at Getty Images.


Fred Lifsitz commented May 17

Fred Lifsitz
San Francisco CA

I have enjoyed Wouk’s writing and story telling since my teen years. Now in my 50’s I still enjoy his work. He captured so much of the 20th century experience with rigor and great understanding, and always, a human and humane touch.

June3 commented May 17

Bethesda MD

Sorry y’all, Marjorie Morningstar is the best, it is and will always be an American Classic. It is of a time and place (NYC in the 1930s-40s) but it is truly timeless. I first read this book when I was 12 or maybe 13. I have read this book at least ten times in the many years that have past since then. Just read it again a few months ago. It’s a different book to an older me, but it’s still wonderful. Wouk clearly loved Marjorie and she broke his heart. Which is why I will always cry when I read about the lilacs. Crying now too.


Bobbi commented May 18


When I first read Marjorie Morningstar in high school, I was so angry at the ending that I threw the book across my room. As I reread it several the times over the years, I understood the truths in it so much more deeply. I’ve met a lot of Noels and learned the same lessons that Marjorie did. And it still makes me laugh – 47 airplanes indeed 🙂

Sandra commented May 18

Long Island

I loved Marjorie Morningstar, too. I think I read it when I was 12 or 13. Never had any interest in his other books, though. Might be time to re-read it!

Josef commented May 17


I was a midwestern boy raised in a farm town and knew nothing of city life, Jewish life, or much else. Herman Wouk opened worlds for me with good storytelling, compelling characters, and a strong moral sensibility. I “graduated” to more respectable writers, by the standards of the critics, but Herman Wouk has always been my favorite.

Jan Enright commented May 17

Jan Enright
South Dakota

I always say that “The Winds of War” is what saved my life during my first long, lonely winter in northern Wisconsin. I also loved “War & Remembrance”, “The Caine Mutiny”, and “Marjorie Morningstar.”


Ruth B commented 10 hours ago

Ruth B

South Dakota?! Who lives there, and WHY?

sloan ranger commented May 17

sloan ranger
Atlanta, GA

I read “The Winds of War” when the the miniseries was coming out, and found it engrossing, but also personally depressing; not because of the subject matter, though of course it was a dark novel, being about WW2 and the Holocaust, but because all the women in the book were childish idiots whose main function was to get the men in trouble, or get themselves in trouble (and the men would rescue them). Though I wasn’t a particularly enlightened woman in the 70s, the misogyny weakened what was an otherwise exciting read.


Bonnie Balanda commented May 17

Bonnie Balanda
Livermore, CA

@sloan ranger Excellent observation. I tried reading Aurora Dawn last month, but the female character was such a cardboard cutout that I put the book down.

Doug Terry commented 10 hours ago

Doug Terry
Maryland, Washington DC metro

@sloan ranger Even bad books teach us lessons and from your comments it appears Wouk qualified in the depiction of women. They show something missing in him or his times. Perhaps he never stopped to really think the female characters through and failed to realize, as any good novelist male or female must do, that women are the best, richest characters ever to be found in literature and…life.

JS commented May 17

Minnetonka, MN

I read the Caine Mutiny in high school and didn’t realize the way I absorbed it until I was lucky enough to go to grad school at Columbia. Walking the Morningside campus for the first time and seeing the names of the buildings from Wouk’s V-7 school (was that real?) came to me instantly.

Improv commented May 17

Hartsdale NY

God Bless Herman Wouk. Would not that all of us do “our level best.” Regarding the appreciation of those level best efforts, I paraphrase a comment recently attributed to Steven Speilberg “Nobody likes his books except the readers.”

Greenfordanger commented May 17


I read, “City Boy: the Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder” when I was twelve and have revisited it several times over almost a half a century. Whatever its literary faults, it was an immensely readable novel that really fired up a love of reading and a confidence that I could handle “adult” novels. I still laugh thinking of the scene of the Remembrance Day ( or maybe it was Veteran’s day; I’m not totally familiar with holidays in the States) assembly where every single class presents John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” all with identical dramatic pauses. For that alone I will mourn Herman Wouk and the reading pleasure he brought me over the years.


Rodgerlodger commented May 18


@Greenfordanger Agree. I was maybe 13 and it gave me confidence in grown-up literature.

Milton Lewis commented May 17

Milton Lewis
Hamilton Ontario

I am not a yahoo and I do not hate culture and the mind. Mr.Wouk wrote wonderfully entertaining historical novels. His fictional characters were always in the center of world events.His novels educated and also provided a wonderful diversion from daily activity. Thank you Mr.Wouk for your body of work. May you RIP.

Ivy Hurley commented May 17

Ivy Hurley

I worked with Mr. Wouk, through his literary agent, in the late 80s and early 90s. He was a lovely, gentle soul with a raconteur’s wit. I loved listening to his stories about his early days in radio. May his memory be a blessing.

NGB commented May 17

North Jersey

When I was probably about 11, I picked up a copy of Mr. Wouk’s The City Boy that was lying around the house (in those days I read everything I could get my hands on), and read it. I re-read it at least five times after that; although it took place decades before I was born, it felt true to my own experience of having been a (albeit non-Jewish) child born and for a long time raised in NYC. When my mother and I would drive through the Bronx on our way to visit my grandparents in Connecticut, I would think of that book and feel somehow connected to the borough. The book just captured so much about being a city kid (and those huge spaces inside the old walls of the public schools–I went to P.S. 40 in the ’60’s, and still remember the grayish light and the echo-y hallways and the smell of boloney sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs at lunchtime)–of playing late into a summer evening and the smells of the sidewalks and the East River and melting ice cream cones and the chlorine of public pools. I miss all that. I never read another book by Mr. Wouk, but that one remains a piece of what formed me as a child, and gave me a great deal of pleasure. I’m grateful to him for that, regardless of what critics had to say.


Martha Goff commented May 17

Martha Goff
Sacramento CA

@NGB Thanks for the mini-review of City Boy… cannot wait to find and read it myself. Please don’t just stop with that one but read as many other Wouk books as you can. Especially the WW-II books: Caine Mutiny and the Winds of War/War & Remembrance. You will be so glad you did. He was a great American treasure.

benjia morgenstern commented May 17

benjia morgenstern

Hete i am mrs. morgenstern and it is a testament to The longevity of the novel,Margorie Morningstar that i am to this day asked about that connection!

HapinOregon commented May 17

Southwest Corner of Oregon

There’s a lot to be said for crafting/creating a good read… Ave & thanks for all the words.

JTW commented May 17

Bainbridge Island, WA

One of the best parts of War and Remembrance is the story of the carrier torpedo squadrons at the Battle of Midway. A total of 41 planes–obsolete piles of junk ironically called Devastators–took off that morning. Only six survived. Hornet’s 15 were all destroyed (with one man surviving). Their sacrifice paved the way for the American victory, which many historians call one of the most decisive battles in history. Wouk listed all of their crews in the front of the book, including their hometowns. Sadly, not only their names but also their astonishing heroism have been virtually forgotten. Hopefully the upcoming movie about Midway (scheduled for release on Veterans Day this year) will give those gallant men their due.


Sarah Crane Chaisen commented May 17

Sarah Crane Chaisen

Nice remembrance and tribute by you.

DSM14 commented May 17

Westfield NJ

@JTW The men of Torpedo Squadron 8 are. sadly far from the only forgotten heroes of the war. In 3 weeks, when the 75th anniversary of D Day arrives, you will see that virtually everyone under 40 has forgotten the thousands of heroes at Omaha beach and St. Mere Eglise.

John Collinge commented May 17

John Collinge
Bethesda, Md

@JTW Yes, I honor the memories of Lt. Commander John Waldron, Commanding Torpedo 8 USS Hornet; Lt Commander Lance Massey, Commanding Torpedo 3 USS Yorktown; and Lt Commander Eugene Lindsey, Commanding Torpedo 6 USS Enterprise and their men. I quite remember the impression that passage in Winds of War made when I read it so many years ago. On a personal note some years later I worked with a lady who’s father served on the Yorktown at Midway and Coral Sea. Midway was a very hard fought and close run victory at a high cost in lives.

David Godinez commented May 17

David Godinez
Kansas City, MO

I recently reread ‘Winds of War’ and ‘War and Remembrance’ for the first time since I had originally read them in the 70’s, and was struck by what page turners they were. Even though I had vaguely remembered most of the plot points, I found myself racing through both of them to find out what happened. He wears his heart on his sleeve during his narratives in way that may be old-fashioned now, but also gives his stories a touch of warmth and authenticity that helps during the grand and terrible events he describes. He was a great storyteller of popular fiction, and the critics should have just been happy with that. R.I.P.

John K commented May 17

John K
Washington, NJ

I first read “The Caine Mutiny” when i was in the 9th grade and have contiuned to read it and Mr. Wouks Opus efforts the “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” every few years. I Thank Mr. Wouk for providing a wonderful characters that I will always be fond of. God Speed…

TAW commented May 17


Mr. Wouk wrote novels people wanted to read. So, this is a crime?


Swannie commented May 18

Honolulu, HI

@TAW The critics are forgotten people, their names lost in the dust. Mr Wouk’s books will perpetuate his name forever.

Green River commented May 17

Green River

May he Rest In Peace. I read Marjorie Morningstar in college (when I was about the same age as Marjorie.) it was such an evocative book. After reading this article it’s easy to imagine much of this book came from his own experience. An American original.

gking01 commented May 17

Jackson Heights

I’ve only read one book of Wouk’s, and I read it solely because of its premise: the attempt(s) to make a film of Moses. It’s absolutely current epistolary — mostly emails and faxes — and it is sharp and very funny. Honest. Wouk was a guy who really knew, inside and out, the business of making movies; he also really knew Moses and the Old Testament. I was intrigued and I was rewarded. [The Lawgiver], for those of us interested in both the meat-grinder world of making movies and the prophet Moses, delivers as promised. Didn’t make me want to read another Wouk book, but I certainly don’t regret having read and enjoyed [The Lawgiver].

Bill Wilson commented May 17

Bill Wilson
Times Pick

Until I read this obituary today I had all but forgotten the impact ‘Winds of War’ made on me – from there I moved onto more and more serious WW II and pre-war histories . A great story that did me a great service. And ‘Marjorie Morningstar’, in Readers’s Digest format, touched me when I was a boy and knew nothing of urban life in my own region. A truly great story teller, thank you Mr. Wouk, you led me to real discovery.

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