Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Garry Wills  

Pen Name: None

Genre:

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1934 in Atlanta, Ga.


-- Garry Wills on WorldCat -- http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=garry+wills


Illinois Connection

Wills lives in Evanston, Illinois and is a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University.

Biographical and Professional Information

Garry Wills, one of our most distinguished historians and critics, is the author of numerous books. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Michigan and Wisconsin. He earned a B.A. from Saint Louis University in 1957. William F. Buckley, Jr. hired him as a drama critic for National Review magazine at the age of 23. He received his PhD in classics from Yale University in 1961. Wills is a distinguished historian and the author of numerous books including the Pulitzer Prize winning ''Lincoln at Gettysburg''. He was awarded the National Medal for the Humanities in 1998. He has twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award, including as a co-winner for nonfiction in 1978 for ''Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence'', a book that also won the Merle Curti Award. Wills joined the faculty of the history department at Northwestern University in 1980, where he is currently an emeritus professor. He is also a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders
ISBN: 067165702X

Simon & Schuster. 1994

An examination of leadership that analyzes modes of leadership to better understand society offers profiles of a variety of leaders, including Harriet Tubman, Napoleon, Ross Perot, and Martha Graham. 25,000 first printing. $25,000 ad/promo. Tour.

Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth
ISBN: 0195088794

Oxford University Press. 1995

In his Pulitzer prize-winning 1993 book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills showed how the Gettysburg Address revolutionized the conception of modern America. In Witches and Jesuits, Wills again focuses on a single document to open up a window on an entire society. He begins with a simple question: If Macbeth is such a great tragedy, why do performances of it so often fail? After all, the stage history of Macbeth is so riddled with disasters that it has created a legendary curse on the drama. Superstitious actors try to evade the curse by referring to Macbeth only as "the Scottish play," but production after production continues to soar in its opening scenes, only to sputter towards anticlimax in the later acts. By critical consensus there seems to have been only one entirely successful modern performance of the play, Laurence Olivier's in 1955, and even Olivier twisted his ankle on opening night. But Olivier's ankle notwithstanding, Wills maintains that the fault lies not in Shakespeare's play, but in our selves.

Drawing on his intimate knowledge of the vivid intrigue and drama of Jacobean England, Wills restores Macbeth's suspenseful tension by returning it to the context of its own time, recreating the burning theological and political crises of Shakespeare's era. He reveals how deeply Macbeth's original 1606 audiences would have been affected by the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a small cell of Jesuits came within a hairbreadth of successfully blowing up not only the King, but the Prince his heir, and all members of the court and Parliament. Wills likens their shock to that endured by Americans following Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination. Furthermore, Wills documents, the Jesuits were widely believed to be acting in the service of the Devil, and so pervasive was the fear of witches that just two years before Macbeth's first performance, King James I added to the witchcraft laws a decree of death for those who procured "the skin, bone, or any other part of any dead person--to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment." We see that the treason and necromancy in Macbeth were more than the imaginings of a gifted playwright--they were dramatizations of very real and potent threats to the realm.

In this new light, Macbeth is transformed. Wills presents a drama that is more than a well-scripted story of a murderer getting his just penalty, it is the struggle for the soul of a nation. The death of a King becomes a truly apocalyptic event, and Malcolm, the slain King's son, attains the status of a man defying cosmic evil. The guilt of Lady Macbeth takes on the Faustian aspect of one who has singed her hands in hell. The witches on the heath, shrugged off as mere symbols of Macbeth's inner guilt and ambition by twentieth century interpreters, emerge as independent agents of the occult with their own (or their Master's) terrifying agendas. Restoring the theological politics and supernatural elements that modern directors have shied away from, Wills points the way towards a Macbeth that will finally escape the theatrical curse on "the Scottish play."

Rich in insight and a joy to read, Witches and Jesuits is a tour de force of scholarship and imagination by one of our foremost writers, essential reading for anyone who loves the language.

John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity
ISBN: 0684808234

Simon & Schuster. 1997

The best-selling author of Lincoln at Gettysburg explores the life and times of John Wayne and his legend, explaining how the man, Marion Morrison, became a myth and how that myth shaped Americans' political attitudes and ideas. 75,000 first printing. $60,000 ad/promo. Tour.

Saint Augustine: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives)
ISBN: 0670886106

Viking Adult. 1999

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln at Gettysburg furnishes an incisive portrait of one of the founding fathers of Western religious philosophy, challenging misconceptions concerning his early hedonistic life and his influential interpretations of Christian doctrine. 15,000 first printing. BOMC Alt & QPB.

A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government
ISBN: 0684844893

Simon & Schuster. 1999

In his first major work since Lincoln at Gettysburg, the author blames American's long-standing mistrust of government on a misreading of history, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Founding Fathers. Tour.

Reagan's America: Innocents at Home
ISBN: 0140296077

Penguin Books. 2000

Look out for a new book from Garry Wills, What The Qur'an Meant, coming fall 2017.

Ronald Reagan
achieved magical accord with the American people, attuning them to his moral vision of a nation made up of optimistic individualists, tough yet God-fearing, blessed with a special destiny. In Reagan's America, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Garry Wills seeks to understand Reagan's appeal through understanding his audience, the Americans who found in him everything they wanted to believe about themselves. An authoritative biography and a fascinating cultural history, Reagan's America reveals how this savvy, charismatic leader restored a nation's fading sense of innocence and faith in itself.

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
ISBN: 0385494106

Doubleday. 2000

"The truth, we are told, will make us free. It is time to free Catholics, lay as well as clerical, from the structures of deceit that are our subtle modern form of papal sin. Paler, subtler, less dramatic than the sins castigated by Orcagna or Dante, these are the quiet sins of intellectual betrayal."
--from the Introduction

From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills comes an assured, acutely insightful--and occasionally stinging--critique of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the nineteenth century to the present.

Papal Sin in the past was blatant, as Catholics themselves realized when they painted popes roasting in hell on their own church walls. Surely, the great abuses of the past--the nepotism, murders, and wars of conquest--no longer prevail yet, the sin of the modern papacy, as revealed by Garry Wills in his penetrating new book, is every bit as real, though less obvious than the old sins.

Wills describes a papacy that seems steadfastly unwilling to face the truth about itself, its past, and its relations with others. The refusal of the authorities of the Church to be honest about its teachings has needlessly exacerbated original mistakes. Even when the Vatican has tried to tell the truth--e.g., about Catholics and the Holocaust--it has ended up resorting to historical distortions and evasions. The same is true when the papacy has attempted to deal with its record of discrimination against women, or with its unbelievable assertion that "natural law" dictates its sexual code.

Though the blithe disregard of some Catholics for papal directives has occasionally been attributed to mere hedonism or willfulness, it actually reflects a failure, after long trying on their part, to find a credible level of honesty in the official positions adopted by modern popes. On many issues outside the realm of revealed doctrine, the papacy has made itself unbelievable even to the well-disposed laity.

The resulting distrust is in fact a neglected reason for the shortage of priests. Entirely aside from the public uproar over celibacy, potential clergy have proven unwilling to put themselves in a position that supports dishonest teachings.

Wills traces the rise of the papacy's stubborn resistance to the truth, beginning with the challenges posed in the nineteenth century by science, democracy, scriptural scholarship, and rigorous history. The legacy of that resistance, despite the brief flare of John XXIII's papacy and some good initiatives in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council (later baffled), is still strong in the Vatican.

Finally Wills reminds the reader of the positive potential of the Church by turning to some great truth tellers of the Catholic tradition--St. Augustine, John Henry Newman, John Acton, and John XXIII. In them, Wills shows that the righteous path can still be taken, if only the Vatican will muster the courage to speak even embarrassing truths in the name of Truth itself.

Venice: Lion City - The Religion of Empire
ISBN: 0684871904

Simon & Schuster. 2001

Garry Wills's Venice: Lion City is a tour de force -- a rich, colorful, and provocative history of the world's most fascinating city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when it was at the peak of its glory. This was not the city of decadence, carnival, and nostalgia familiar to us from later centuries. It was a ruthless imperial city, with a shrewd commercial base, like ancient Athens, which it resembles in its combination of art and sea empire. The structure of Venetian society was based on its distinctive practice of religion: Venice elected its priests, defied the authority of papal Rome, and organized its liturgy around a lay leader (the doge). Venice: Lion City presents a new way of relating the history of the city through its art and, in turn, illuminates the art through the city's history. In their culture, their governing structures, and their social life, the Venetians themselves speak to us with extraordinary immediacy, whether at work, warfare, prayer, or acting out their victories, celebrations, and petitions in the colorful festivals that punctuated the year. Venice: Lion City is illustrated with more than 130 works of art, 30 in full color. Garry Wills gives us a unique view of Venice's rulers, merchants, clerics, and laborers, its Jews, and its women as they created a city that is the greatest art museum in the world, a city that continues to lure an endless stream of visitors. Like Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches, on the Dutch culture in the Golden Age, Venice: Lion City will take its place as a classic work of history and criticism.

Explaining America: The Federalist
ISBN: 0140298398

Penguin Books. 2001

Look out for a new book from Garry Wills, What The Qur'an Meant, coming fall 2017.

Now with a new introduction--award-winning historian Garry Wills's definitive analysis of the Federalist Papers

In 1787 and 1788, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison published what remains perhaps the greatest example of political journalism in the English language--the Federalist Papers. Written to urge ratification of the Constitution, the eighty-five essays--trenchant in thought and graceful in expression--defended the Constitution not merely as a theoretical statement but as a practical instrument of rule. Now updated with a new introduction, Garry Wills's classic study subjects these essays to rigorous analysis, illuminating, as only he can, their significance in the development of the philosophy on which our government is based.

James Madison (The American Presidents Series)
ISBN: 0805069054

Times Books. 2002

A bestselling historian examines the life of a Founding Father.

Renowned historian and social commentator Garry Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress.

Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and was forced to adjust some expectations he had formed while drafting that document. Not temperamentally suited to be a wartime President, Madison nonetheless confronted issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress, and the independence of the military. Wills traces Madison's later life during which, like many recent Presidents, he enjoyed greater popularity than while in office.

Why I Am a Catholic
ISBN: 0618134298

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2002

PAPAL SIN and its exposť of a fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the papacy provoked both praise and heated debate. Accused by some of harboring deep resentments against the church, Wills counters with a powerful statement of his Catholic faith.
Wills begins with a reflection on his early experience of that faith as a child, and later as a Jesuit seminarian, revealing the importance of Catholicism in his own life. He goes on to challenge, in clear and forceful terms, the dogmatic claim that criticism or reform of the papacy is an assault on the faith itself. In a sweeping narrative covering two thousand years of church history, he reveals that the papacy, far from being an unchanging institution, has been transformed dramatically over the millennia and can be reimagined in the future. Wills ends with a moving meditation on the significance of the creed, the timeless core of the Catholic faith, which endures even as the institution of the church changes.
Posing urgent questions for Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike, Wills argues for the continuing relevance of a papacy newly understood. He has already stirred up controversy about the failures of the church. Now, at a time when the selection of a new pope is imminent, he is sure to spark an equally heated conversation about its future.

Mr. Jefferso