Cover image for The will to live on : this is our heritage
The will to live on : this is our heritage
Wouk, Herman, 1915-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Cliff Street Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 308 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BM155.2 .W68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Herman Wouk has ranged in his novels from the mighty narrative of The Caine Mutiny and the warm, intimate humor of Marjorie Morningstar to the global panorama of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. All these powers merge in this major new work of nonfiction, The Will to Live On, an illuminating account of the worldwide revolution that has been sweeping over Jewry, set against a swiftly reviewed background of history, tradition, and sacred literature.

Forty years ago, in his modern classic This Is My God, Herman Wouk stated the case for his religious beliefs and conduct. His aim in that work and in The Will to Live On has been to break through the crust of prejudice, to reawaken clearheaded thought about the magnificent Jewish patrimony, and to convey a message of hope for Jewish survival.

Although the Torah and the Talmud are timeless, the twentieth century has brought earthquake shocks to the Jews: the apocalyptic experience of the Holocaust, the reborn Jewish state, the precarious American diaspora, and deepening religious schisms. After a lifetime of study, Herman Wouk examines the changes affecting the Jewish world, especially the troubled wonder of Israel, and the remarkable, though dwindling, American Jewry. The book is peppered with wonderful stories of the author's encounters with such luminaries as Ben Gurion, Isidor Rabi, Yitzhak Rabin, Saul Bellow, and Richard Feynan.

Learned in general culture, warmly tolerant of other beliefs, this noted author expresses his own other beliefs, this noted author expresses his own faith with a passion that gives the book its fire and does so in the clear, engaging style that--as in all Wouk's fiction--makes the reader want to know what the next page will bring.

Herman Wouk writes, in The Will to Live On:

"And so the Melting Pot is beginning to work on Jewry. Its effect was deferred in the passing century by the shock of the Holocaust and the rise of Israel, but today the Holocaust is an academic subject, and Israel is no longer a beleaguered underdog. Amkha in America is not dying, it is slowly melting, and those are very different fates. Dying is a terror, an agony, a strangling finish, to be fought off by sheer instinct, by the will to live on, to the last breath. Melting is a mere diffusion into an ambient welcoming warmth in which one is dissolved and disappears, as a teaspoon of sugar vanishes into hot tea....

Yet here in the United States, for all the scary attrition I have pictured, we are still a community of over five million strong. . . . At a far stretch of my hopes, our descendants could one day be a diaspora comparable to Babylonia. At the moment, of course, that is beyond rational expectation. We have to concentrate on lasting at all. . . ."

Author Notes

Herman Wouk was born in New York on May 27, 1915. He received an A.B. degree from Columbia University, New York. In 1936, he became a radio scriptwriter with Fred Allen. In 1941, he served the U.S. government by producing radio broadcasts to sell war bonds. He joined the United States Navy and served in the Pacific. He began his first novel during off-duty hours at sea.

He has been a full-time writer since 1946. His debut novel, Aurora Dawn, was published in 1947. His other books include City Boy, Marjorie Morningstar, This Is My God, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, and Sailor and Fiddler. He received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952 for The Caine Mutiny. He has also received the Columbia University Medal of Excellence, the Hamilton Medal, the America Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, the Washingtonian Award, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation Award, and the Kazetnik Award. The first Library of Congress Lifetime Achievement Award for the Writing of Fiction was awarded Wouk in 2008.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Jewish life and history have always been important themes in Wouk's work, both in his fiction, such as the controversial Marjorie Morningstar and The Winds of War, and his early nonfiction, This Is My God (1959), which attempted to explain why an up-and-coming American writer kept kosher and studied the Talmud. To his surprise, as he recounts in the preface to this sage and lucid follow-up, This Is My God took off, and its popularity has never waned. It may well have stood on its own for perpetuity if Wouk, now 84, hadn't been prompted to return to nonfiction by a "tragedy of majestic, of biblical consequence," the murder of his good friend, Yitzhak Rabin. As he grieved, Wouk found himself assessing the state of Judaism 50 years after the Holocaust and wondering about its future. His musings coalesced into this three-pronged narrative about the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jewish sacred literature, and the "present world scene of Jewry." Not only does Wouk bring deeply rooted intellectual and spiritual knowledge to the page, he also possesses a writer's sensitivity to the profound drama and poetry of the Jewish tradition, which enables him to analyze complex events and philosophical nuances with clarity and conciseness. His cogent, humanist, and stirring telling of Jewish history's cycles of destruction, survival, diaspora, and resurgence, as enacted in Babylon, Rome, Spain, Auschwitz, and Israel, is enriched with personal anecdotes and heartfelt tributes to Jewish heroes and Wouk's own mentors. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the 1950s, sensing a drifting of Jews away from their tradition, novelist Wouk (The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, etc.), an observant Jew, wrote This Is My God, a classic primer on Jewish belief and practices, to draw some of the curious back. Nearly half a century later, with the American Jewish community concerned with high rates of intermarriage, Wouk brings out this companion volume, a whirlwind tour of Jewish history and sacred texts. It is, he writes, his "view that any hope for our long future [lies] in a massive return to our sources, in faith, in literature, and in history." Despite its brevity, the text succeeds in conveying the large arc of 2,500 years of Jewish history and the grandeur of the Hebrew Bible and prophets, the "exalted challenge" of studying the Talmud and the complex questions of identity facing Jews today, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora. He writes with great love of his tradition and with a becoming modesty about his own impressive scholarship. He draws on incidents from his life to illustrate various points; for instance, regarding the inevitable conflict in the modern mind between rationalism and religion, he describes a meeting between two of his mentors: the philosopher Irwin Edman of Columbia University and Wouk's grandfather, an unworldly Talmudic scholar. Wouk discusses all these issues clearly without oversimplifying them; he confronts head on, for example, the dilemmas facing Zionism in an age when Israel is a military power and a mature, internally divided country. This fine volume deserves to become a classic alongside its predecessor. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

It is indeed impressive that at age 84, Wouk, the famed American novelist, is prepared to revisit the spiritual and historical territory that he first explored in This Is My God. Wouk, a deeply committed and educated Jew, explores the mystery of the survival of the Jewish people through the ages. The three main sections of this book cover the Holocaust, surveys of Jewish sacred and historical literature, and contemporary Jewish life in Israel and the United States. Throughout, Wouk intersperses biographical details that make the reader yearn for a more complete autobiography. Readers seeking an introduction to Judaism will be enlightened by the depth of knowledge here, as Wouk tells a complicated story so simply, and those who have read widely in Jewish literature will be entranced by his deeply felt and articulate sense of the importance of being a committed and believing Jew. Recommended for all collections.--Olga B. Wise, Technical Lib., Compaq Computers Inc., Austin, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Part I Searching the Wreckage
1 The Rebbe and the Historianp. 11
2 Running on Emptyp. 23
3 The First Destructionp. 35
4 The Second Destructionp. 45
5 The Third Destruction: Ip. 57
6 The Third Destruction: IIp. 73
7 Retrospectp. 85
Part II The Heritage, or The Power of a Dream
8 Zaideh and the Humanistp. 91
9 The Sacred Storyp. 105
10 The Fathersp. 121
11 The Lawp. 133
12 Nakh: The Prophets and the Writingsp. 147
13 The Talmud and Ip. 157
14 Kabbalahp. 173
15 Yiddish and Yiddishkeitp. 191
16 Ivrit and Zionismp. 207
17 Yossip. 225
Part III The Jewish Resurgence
18 The Miraclep. 233
19 America: The Whispering Emberp. 249
20 The Breath of the Childrenp. 263
Afterwordp. 277
Notesp. 281
Glossaryp. 299
Biographical Namesp. 305
Acknowledgmentsp. 309