Take Five with Herman Wouk ’34


Stephanie Diani

Herman Wouk ’34 is one of the College’s oldest living alumni. He is the author of The Caine Mutiny (1951), Marjorie Morningstar (1955), Youngblood Hawke (1961), Don’t Stop the Carnival (1965), The Winds of War (1971), War and Remembrance (1978) and Inside, Outside (1985). His later works include The Hope (1993), The Glory (1994) and A Hole in Texas (2004). Wouk was awarded the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Caine Mutiny and appeared on the September 5, 1955, cover of Time magazine for Marjorie Morningstar, the best-selling novel of that year. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance became two popular TV miniseries in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1998, Wouk received the Guardian of Zion Award for his support of Israel. In 2008, he was honored with the first Library of Congress Fiction Award, to be known as the Herman Wouk Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. Wouk lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Allow a very senior alumnus to reply with a rambling response. Down the decades I have written one or another tribute on request. This is one more such celebration of that wonderful brief passage of my days. I was a subway collegian for my first two years, then my folks moved from Pelham Parkway to West End Avenue, and I often walked to Columbia. I loved the College unreservedly.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I had a special experience of living on campus, when Columbia harbored a Navy midshipman school, which every 90 days minted out reserve ensigns for the war. I roomed on the top floor of Furnald Hall with two other would-be Naval Reserve officers. That experience became an early chapter of The Caine Mutiny — mighty different from college, yet also mellowed and hallowed by distance in time. One roommate became a teacher, the other a judge.

What class do you most remember and why?

My hours with Irwin Edman (Class of 1916, GSAS 1920) and Jacques Barzun ’27, GSAS’32 were a lasting education in the making of the modern mind — one textbook then had some such title. [The Making of a Modern Mind, by John Herman Randall Jr. (Class of 1918, GSAS 1922), forward by Barzun; still in print.] In each teacher I found a lifelong friend. Both had the Columbian grace of being witty, urbane and on occasion profound.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I recall my academic education as four years of walks between Hamilton and Philosophy Halls, back and forth. My heart was in neither, but on the third floor of John Jay, where I served on Spectator, edited Jester and watched rehearsals of my Varsity Shows.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I have no idea of what being on the campus is like nowadays; no doubt quite different, but I would hazard, just as memorable.