Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Garry Wills  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: 1934 in Atlanta, Ga.

-- Garry Wills on WorldCat --

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

  • Certain Trumpets, The Call of Leaders, Simon & Schuster, 1993
  • Witches and Jesuits, Shakespeare`s Macbeth, New York Public Library, 1995
  • John Wayne`s America, The Politics of Celebrity, Simon & Schuster, 1997
  • Saint Augustine, Viking, 1999
  • A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government, Simon & Schuster, 1999
  • Reagan's America, Penguin, 2000
  • Papal Sin, Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, 2000
  • Venice, Lion City, The Religion of Empire, Simon & Schuster, 2001
  • Explaining America, Explaining America, 2001
  • James Madison, Holt, 2002
  • Why I Am a Catholic, Houghton Mifflin, 2002
  • Mr. Jefferson`s University, National Geographic, 2002
  • Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Mariner Books, 2002
  • Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, Mariner Books, 2002
  • The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power, Mariner Books, 2002
  • Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, Mariner Books, 2005
  • The Rosary, Penguin, 2006
  • Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America , Simon & Schuster, 2006
  • Under God: Religion and American Politics, Simon & Schuster, 2007
  • Henry Adams and the Making of America, Mariner Books, 2007
  • Head and Heart: American Christianities, Penguin Press, 2007
  • What Paul Meant, Penguin, 2007
  • What Jesus Meant, Penguin, 2007
  • Martial's Epigrams, Viking Adult, 2008
  • What the Gospels Meant, Penguin Press, 2009
  • Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, Penguin Press, 2010
  • Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer, Viking Adult, 2010
  • Why Priests?, Viking, 2013

Selected Titles At Your Library

Certain trumpets :
ISBN: 067165702X. OCLC Number:

Simon & Schuster,. New York :. ©1994.

"In his Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills reframed our understanding of Lincoln the leader. Wills breathed new life into words we thought we knew and revealed much about a President so mythologized but often misunderstood. He showed how Lincoln's personality was less at issue than his followers' values and Lincoln's exquisite ability, in a mere 272 words, to reach them, to give the whole nation "a new birth of freedom," and to weave a spell that has not yet been broken." "Now Wills extends his extraordinary quality of observation and iconoclastic scholarship to examine the nature of leadership itself, perhaps history's most pivotal and emotionally charged topic. Almost the first thing people say about leaders is that we used to have them but now do not. Some blame this on the press, or on television, or on education. Others say we are manipulated, not led. Still others pore over book after book, searching for the perfect exemplar to imitate in order to achieve success." "Wills offers a wide range of portraits drawn largely, but not exclusively, from American history and representing revolutionary, political, religious, business, artistic, sports, and military leaders - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Andrew Young, Napoleon, King David, Ross Perot, George Washington, Socrates, Mary Baker Eddy, Carl Stotz, Martha Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesare Borgia, and Dorothy Day - each shown in the act of leading his or her followers. And after each example, Wills also provides an anti-type to help define the type better."

Witches and Jesuits :
ISBN: 0195088794. OCLC Number:

New York Public Library ;. New York :. 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? The stage history of Macbeth 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. 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 Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a small cell of plotters 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 behind the Plot, acting in conjunction with 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 some interpreters, emerge as independent agents of the occult with their own (or their Master's) terrifying agenda. 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 :
ISBN: 0684808234. OCLC Number:

Simon & Schuster,. New York :. ©1997.

Eighteen years after his death, John Wayne is still America's favorite movie star. He was less an actor than a symbol, the most popular pop icon of the twentieth century, and one of the most important political figures in America. People shaped their lives or adopted political stands to conform to him as a template of authentic Americanism. Wayne became the lens through which people saw their own and their country's history. In this brilliant, groundbreaking study of the relationship between politics and popular culture, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills focuses on the manufacture of "John Wayne" from the raw materials of Marion Morrison, the person born in Iowa who became a myth, his own reality swallowed up in his meaning as master directors such as John Ford crafted films that made him the personification of America's frontier myth.

Saint Augustine /
ISBN: 0670886106. OCLC Number:

. .

For centuries, Augustine's writings have moved and fascinated readers. With the fresh, keen eye of a writer whose own intellectual analysis has won him a Pulitzer Prize, Gary Wills examines this famed fourth-century bishop and seminal thinker whose grounding in classical philosophy informed his influential interpretation of the Christian doctrines of mind and body, wisdom and God. Saint Augustine explores both the great ruminator on the human condition and the everyday man who set pen to parchment. It challenges many misconceptions, among them those regarding his early sexual excesses. Here, for students, Christians, and voyagers into the new millennium, is a lively and incisive portrait of one who helped to shape our thoughts.

A necessary evil :
ISBN: 0684844893. OCLC Number:

. .

The author blames American's long-standing mistrust of government on a misreading of history, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Founding Fathers.

Reagan's America /
ISBN: 0140296077. OCLC Number:

Penguin Books,. New York :. ©2000.

"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." "From the Mississippi Valley culture of Reagan's youth to the dreamland of midcentury Hollywood, from the California governor's office to the White House, Wills shows how Reagan's environment and quintessentially American careers - lifeguard, athlete, actor, union leader, and businessman - informed his values and ultimately contributed to his success as a politician." "An authoritative biography and a fascinating cultural history, Reagan's America reveals how this savvy, charismatic leader succeeded in restoring a nation's nearly lost sense of innocence and faith in itself."--Jacket.

Papal sin :
ISBN: 0385494106. OCLC Number:

Doubleday,. New York :. 2000.

Chronicles the history of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the nineteenth century to the present, focusing on the Church's devious practices and stubborn resistance to the truth.

Venice: lion city :
ISBN: 0684871904. OCLC Number:

Simon & Schuster,. New York :. ©2001.

A historical perspective on Venice during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is told through its relationship with art and its connection to religion, and details the labor, warfare, prayer, and discipline of the time.

Explaining America :
ISBN: 0140298398. OCLC Number:

Penguin Books,. New York :. 2001.

James Madison /
ISBN: 0805069054. OCLC Number:

. .

In this examination of the life of a founding father, renowned historian 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.

Why I am a Catholic /
ISBN: 0618134298. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin,. Boston :. ©2002.

The author recounts his own experiences as a Jesuit seminarian and a Catholic layman, traces the origins of the papacy and explains why this often fallible institution is not the same as the Church, and discusses the Apostle's Creed.

Mr. Jefferson's university /
ISBN: 0792265319. OCLC Number:

National Geographic,. Washington, D.C. :. ©2002.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, at the University of Virginia, there is today-beneath the irregular rhythms of modern student comings and goings-a severely rhythmic expression of the Enlightenment, a philosophy concretized in brick and timber. The play of one architectural element into another is meant to express the interconnectedness of all knowledge. It is Jefferson's last but not his least achievement, and one of the three things that he put on his own tombstone to be remembered by. In important ways, this architectural complex is a better expression of Jefferson's mind than is his home on the hill overlooking the campus. Chance had a great deal to do with the way Monticello grew up over the years. But everything in the university's structure was planned, to the last detail-a meticulous ordering that is both romantic and quixotic. It is a place of study that itself repays study, and makes on lost world of the 18th century only half lost after all.

Inventing America :
ISBN: 0618257764. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin Co.,. Boston :. 2002.

"From one of America's foremost historians, Inventing America compares Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence with the final, accepted version, thereby challenging many long-cherished assumptions about both the man and the document. Although Jefferson has long been idealized as a champion of individual rights, Wills argues that in fact his vision was one in which interdependence, not self-interest, lay at the foundation of society."--Jacket.

Nixon agonistes :
ISBN: 0618134328. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin,. Boston :. 2002.

From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loyalty of its youth, puzzled by its own power, and looking to its cautious president for confidence. In the end, Nixon Agonistes reaches far beyond its assessment of the thirty-seventh president to become an incisive and provocative analysis of the American political machine.

The Kennedy imprisonment :
ISBN: 0618134433. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin,. Boston :. 2002.

"From one of America's Foremost Historians, The Kennedy Imprisonment is the definitive historical and psychological analysis of the Kennedy clan. The winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Garry Wills reveals a family that enjoyed public adulation but provided fluctuating leadership, that experienced both unparalleled fame and odd failures, and whose basic values ensnared its men in their own myths of success and masculinity. In the end, Wills demonstrates, the Kennedys' crippling conception of power touched every aspect of their public and private lives, including their relationships with women and world leaders. Sometimes gossipy, sometimes philosophical, The Kennedy Imprisonment is a book that is as true, insightful, and relevant as ever."--Jacket.

Negro president :
ISBN: 0618485376. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin,. Boston :. 2005.

"In "Negro President" historian Garry Wills explores a pivotal moment in American history through the lens of Thomas Jefferson and the now largely forgotten Timothy Pickering, and "prods readers to appreciate essential aspects of our distressed but well-intentioned representative democracy" (Chicago Tribune)."

The rosary :
ISBN: 0143037978. OCLC Number:

Penguin Books,. New York :. 2006, ©2005.

"The Christian rosary arranges beads so that one can contemplate different episodes in the life of Christ. Though some think of the rosary as a form of piety, sentimental if not superstitious, Wills argues that it is deeply grounded in the life of Christ's mystical body. He supplies the texts from the gospels that are meditated on, with some suggested reflections and a series of exquisite Tintoretto paintings to concentrate the mind."--Page 4 of cover.

Lincoln at Gettysburg :
ISBN: 0743299639. OCLC Number:

Simon & Schuster,. New York :. ©1992.

Examination of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame breathing new life into the words and revealing much about the President.

Under God :
ISBN: 141654335X. OCLC Number:

Simon and Schuster Paperbacks,. New York :. 2007.

In Under God, Garry Wills, one of our liveliest and most eminent political observers, moves through the tapestry of American history, illuminating the instances where American politics and American religion have collided. Beginning with the 1988 presidential contest, an election that included two ministers and a senator accused of sin, Wills surveys our history to show the continuity of present controversies with past religious struggles and argues that the secular standards of the Founding Fathers have been misunderstood. He shows that despite reactionary fire-breathers and fanatics, religion has often been a progressive force in American politics and explains why the policy of a separate church and state has, ironically, made the position of the church stronger. Marked by the extraordinary quality of observation that has defined the work of Garry Wills, Under God is a rich, original look at why religion and politics will never be separate in the United States.

Henry Adams and the making of America /
ISBN: 0618872663. OCLC Number:

Houghton Mifflin,. Boston :. [2007], 2005.

A profile of nineteenth-century historian Henry Adams assesses his influence on the study of history, discussing his use of archival sources, firsthand reportage, and eyewitness accounts that transformed historical study.

Head and heart :
ISBN: 1594201463. OCLC Number:

Penguin Press,. New York :. 2007.

An examination of Christianity's place in American life through history, from the Puritans to the administration of George W. Bush. The struggle within American Christianity, historian Wills argues, has been between the head and the heart: reason and emotion, Enlightenment and Evangelism. 18th century America saw a religious revolution--an Enlightenment culture emerged whose hallmarks were tolerance for other faiths and a belief that religion was best divorced from political institutions. Wills shows the steps by which church-state separation was enshrined in the Constitution. He shows a repeating pattern in our history: a cooling of popular religious fervor, followed by an explosion in evangelical activity, and then a backlash. --From publisher description.

What Paul meant /
ISBN: 0143112635. OCLC Number:

Viking,. New York :. 2006.

All through history, Christians have debated Paul's influence on the church. Though revered, Paul has also been a stone on which many stumble. Unlike the Gospel writers, who carefully shaped their narratives many decades after Jesus' life, Paul wrote in the heat of the moment, managing controversy, and sometimes contradicting himself, but at the same time offering the best reflection of those early times. This interpretation of Paul's writing examines his tremendous influence on the first explosion of Christian belief and chronicles the controversy surrounding Paul through the centuries.--From publisher description.

What Jesus meant /
ISBN: 014303880X. OCLC Number:

Viking,. New York :. 2006.

In what are billed as "culture wars," people on the political right and the political left cite Jesus as endorsing their views. Wills argues that Jesus subscribed to no political program--He was far more radical than that. It is only by dodges and evasions that people misrepresent what Jesus plainly had to say against power, the wealthy, and religion itself. Jesus came from the working class, and he spoke to and for that class. This book will challenge the assumptions of almost everyone who brings religion into politics--"Christian socialists" as well as biblical theocrats. But Wills is just as critical of those who would make Jesus a mere ethical teacher, ignoring or playing down his divinity--Jesus without the Resurrection is simply not the Jesus of the gospels. He argues that this does not make people embrace an otherworldliness that ignores the poor or the problems of our time.--From publisher description.

Martial's Epigrams :
ISBN: 0670020397. OCLC Number:

Viking,. New York :. ©2008.

Bawdy and biting epigrams, freshly translated, ready for enjoyment.

What the Gospels meant /
ISBN: 014311512X. OCLC Number:

Viking,. New York :. 2008.

Examines the goals, methods, and styles of the evangelists and how these shaped the gospels' messages. The earliest book, Mark, emphasizes Jesus the sufferer; in Matthew, Jesus the teacher; in Luke, Jesus the reconciler; and in John, Jesus the mystic.

Bomb power :
ISBN: 1594202400. OCLC Number:

Penguin Press,. New York :. 2010.

From Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills comes this groundbreaking examination of how the atomic bomb profoundly altered the nature of American democracy, and why we have been in a state of war alert ever since.--Book jacket.

Outside looking in :
ISBN: 0670022144. OCLC Number:

Viking,. New York :. 2010.

Prolific journalist, historian, political columnist, and practicing Catholic Wills (now 76) writes an intensely opinionated re-evaluation of leaders and celebrities he has encountered, among them Studs Terkel, Beverly Sills, William Buckley, Richard Nixon, and more.

Why priests? :
ISBN: 0670024872. OCLC Number:

. .

In his most provocative book yet, Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills asks the radical question: Why do we need priests? Author Wills spent five years as a young man at a Jesuit seminary and nearly became a priest himself. But after a lifetime of study and reflection, he now poses some challenging questions: Why do we need priests at all? Why did the priesthood arise in a religion that began without it and opposed it? Would Christianity be stronger without the priesthood, as it was at its outset? Meticulously researched, persuasively argued, and certain to spark debate, Why Priests? asserts that the anonymous Letter to Hebrews, a late addition to the New Testament canon, helped inject the priesthood into a Christianity where it did not exist, along with such concomitants as belief in an apostolic succession, the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass, and the ransom theory of redemption. But Wills does not expect the priesthood to fade entirely away. He just reminds us that Christianity did without it in the time of Peter and Paul with notable success.--From publisher description.


Pulitzer Prize for

Lincoln at Gettysburg

Lincoln Scholar Two National Book Critics Circle Awards - one for

Inventing America

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)