Profile: Herman Wouk

Name: Herman Wouk
Education: B.A. Columbia University 1934
Honorary Degree: Doctorate of Letters
Accomplishments: Pulitzer Prize, The Caine Mutiny

Herman Wouk won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction writing in 1952 for his World War II novel The Caine Mutiny, which chronicles a mutiny on board a Navy minesweeper. Wouk, who served in the Pacific Ocean with the Navy from 1941 until the end of the war, drew from his war experience for most of his novels.

A son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Wouk was born in New York City on May 27, 1915. Wouk attended public school in the Bronx until he began his studies at Columbia University. Wouk received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1934 when he was 19.

Wouk joined the Navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. On the U.S.S. Zane minesweeper stationed in the South Pacific, Wouk participated in eight invasions, which earned him several battle stars. Wouk became executive officer on the U.S.S. Southard by the end of World War II.

He began working on his first novel Aurora Dawn while he was still in the Navy. The book was published in 1947, followed the next year by The City Boy.

The Caine Mutiny, released in 1951, was the author’s first number-one best seller. A movie version of the novel was released in 1954. Wouk also adapted a section of the book into a play, “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” the same year.

His next two novels, Majorie Morningstar in 1955 and Youngblood Hawke in 1962, were also best sellers. Majorie Morningstar was a popular book in 1955 and was the first in a wave of Jewish American novels in the 1950s and 1960s. Youngblood Hawke was partly based on American novelist Thomas Wolfe and partly autobiographical.

Wouk hit the best-seller list again in 1971 with The Winds of War, a romance set in pre-World War II America. The book’s sequel, War and Remembrance, was also a best seller in 1978. Wouk made the books into a miniseries for ABC, which won the 1988-89 Outstanding Miniseries Emmy Award.

Wouk published his most recent, book The Will to Live On: This is Our Heritage, this year as a follow-up to his 1959 religious biography This Is My God.

Wouk has been married to his wife Betty since 1948. She has worked as his editor, manuscript assistant and literary agent.

-Tim Donnelly

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