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WOUK, HERMAN (1915-2019).

American author. Best known for The Caine Mutiny and writing about Judaism for the secular public.

Born into an Orthodox Jewish immigrant family from Minsk, Belarus. The middle of three children, his younger brother Victor was a brilliant electrical engineer.

When Wouk was 13, his grandfather, Rabbi Mendel Leib Levine, immigrated to America and this had a strong impact in Wouk’s Jewish education and inspired Wouk’s lifelong dedication to Judaism. Wouk said “When my grandfather came he brought a whole different attitude into our lives … What he said was in his action. There is nothing more important than being a Jew. Nothing.”

For much of his life, Wouk studied the Talmud daily and led a weekly Talmud class. Wouk attended and supported many synagogues throughout his life. Kesher Israel Georgetown Synagogue in Washington D.C. is known as “Herman Wouk’s synagogue.” Wouk called it “the best little shul in America.” Later he attended Chabad of Palm Springs. Wouk was a dedicated supporter of Israel and was awarded the Bar-Ilan University Guardian of Zion Award in 1998.

He attended Columbia University and studied psychology and literature, graduating in 1934. While at Columbia he wrote a humor column for the campus newspaper and edited the Jester, a humor magazine. He later received an honorary degree from Yeshiva University in 1954.

Wouk started his writing career in radio. From 1936-1941, he wrote jokes and sketches for radio host Fred Allen. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a radio officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers in the Pacific where he participated in eight campaigns, won several battle stars, and achieved the rank of lieutenant. Wouk’s experiences in the U.S. Navy strongly influenced his later writings, and he was presented with the United States Navy Lone Sailor Award in 1987.

Herman Wouk was a prolific author and he remained an immensely popular and influential author throughout his life. The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1952. Wouk appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1955 when Marjorie Morningstar was published. He won the Jewish Book Council Lifetime Literary Achievement Award (1999), and the Library of Congress Lifetime Achievement Award for the Writing of Fiction (2008).

Many of his books became bestsellers and Book of the Month Club selection. Among his most popular novels are The Winds of War (1971), and War and Remembrance (1978). His autobiography and last book, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author, was published in 2016.

Herman Wouk helped adapt several of these books into movies, television, or theatre. In 1952, The Caine Mutiny was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and was adapted into a Broadway play “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.” Marjorie Morningstar was adapted into a movie in 1958 starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were both turned into television miniseries.

Wouk also wrote non-fiction, most notably This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life (1959) which is an attempt to explain Judaism to Gentiles and more secular Jews. It is still popular today.

His Judaism and Jewish background was important and made significant appearances in his other works as well as he tapped into his own heritage and Orthodox Jewish upbringing. This makes him fairly unique among popular writers.

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