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Garry Wills (born May 22, 1934 in Atlanta, Georgiamarker) is a prolific author, journalist, and historian specializing in American politics, American political history and ideology and the Roman Catholic Church. Classically trained at Jesuit schools, he is proficient in Greek and Latin, but not Hebrew. He has written nearly 40 books and has been a frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books since 1973.

A conservative and early protégé of William F. Buckley, Jr as a young man, Wills became increasingly liberal through the 1960s, driven by his coverage of the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movements. Although a devout Catholic, he has been an excoriating critic of the Vaticanmarker and its policies and theology.


Wills grew up in Michigan and Wisconsin and graduated from Campion High School, a Jesuit institution, in Prairie du Chienmarker, Wisconsinmarker in 1951. He entered and then left the Jesuit order. 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 Yalemarker in 1961. Wills has been awarded the honorary degree of L.H.D. by the College of the Holy Crossmarker (1982) and by Bates Collegemarker (1995).

Ideologically, he started out his adult life as a conservative, but through the 1960s he became more and more a liberal, driven by covering the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.

His biography of president Richard M. Nixon, Nixon Agonistes (1970) landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.

Wills joined the faculty of the history department at Northwestern Universitymarker in 1980. He is now an emeritus professor.

Children: John Wills, Garry Wills, Lydia Wills

Public appraisal

The New York Times literary critic John Leonard said in 1970 that Wills "reads like a combination of H. L. Mencken, John Locke and Albert Camus."

The Roman Catholic journalist, John L. Allen, Jr. considers Wills to be "perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years" (as of 2008).

Pius IX controversy

In 2000, Wills wrote Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, a work critical of the papacy of Pius IX at a time when the Pope was being scheduled for beatification. Wills, along with author John Cornwell, was also critical of the papacy of Pius XII; his criticisms were denounced as unfair by Rabbi David G. Dalin in the book The Myth of Hitler's Pope.


He won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (1993), which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. He was awarded the National Medal for the Humanities in 1998. He has twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award, including as a cowinner for nonfiction in 1978 for Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.


  • Chesterton: Man and Mask, Doubleday, 1961. ISBN 978-0-385-50290-0
  • Animals of the Bible by Garry Wills (1962)
  • Politics and Catholic Freedom (1964)
  • Roman Culture: Weapons and the Man (1966), ISBN 0-8076-0367-8
  • The Second Civil War: Arming for Armageddon (1968)
  • Jack Ruby (bio by Garry Wills)|Jack Ruby (1968), ISBN 0-306-80564-2
  • Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-made Man (1970, 1979), ISBN 0-451-61750-9
  • Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy, and Radical Religion (1972), ISBN 0-385-08970-8
  • Values Americans Live By (1973), ISBN 0-405-04166-7
  • Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1978), ISBN 0-385-08976-7
  • Confessions of a Conservative (1979), ISBN 0-385-08977-5
  • At Button's (1979), ISBN 0-8362-6108-9
  • Explaining America: The Federalist (1981), ISBN 0-385-14689-2
  • The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power (1982), ISBN 0-316-94385-1
  • Lead Time: A Journalist's Education (1983), ISBN 0-385-17695-3
  • Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (1984), ISBN 0-385-17562-0
  • Reagan's America: Innocents at Home (1987), ISBN 0-385-18286-4
  • Under God: Religion and American Politics (1990), ISBN 0-671-65705-4
  • Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (1992), ISBN 0-671-76956-1
  • Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders (1994), ISBN 0-671-65702-X
  • Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth (1995), ISBN 0-19-508879-4
  • John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity (1997), ISBN 0-684-80823-4
  • Saint Augustine (bio by Garry Wills)|Saint Augustine (1999), ISBN 0-670-88610-6
  • A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government (1999), ISBN 0-684-84489-3
  • Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000), ISBN 0-385-49410-6
  • Venice: Lion City: The Religion of Empire (2001), ISBN 0-684-87190-4
  • Why I Am a Catholic (2002), ISBN 0-618-13429-8
  • Mr. Jefferson's University (2002), ISBN 0-7922-6531-9
  • James Madison (bio by Garry Wills)|James Madison (2002), ISBN 0-8050-6905-4
  • Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power (2003), ISBN 0-618-34398-9
  • Henry Adams and the Making of America (2005), ISBN 0-618-13430-1
  • The Rosary: Prayer Comes Round (2005), ISBN 0-670-03449-5
  • What Jesus Meant (2006), ISBN 0-670-03496-7
  • What Paul Meant (2006), ISBN 0-670-03793-1
  • Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007), ISBN 978-1594201462
  • What the Gospels Meant (2008), ISBN 978-0-0670-01871-0


  1. Wills page at the NYRB
  2. Leonard, 1970
  3. Allen, 28 November 2008


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