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Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer Paperback – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is an episodic but completely captivating collection by the prolific journalist, historian, political columnist, and practicing Catholic Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg). Now 76, he writes an intensely opinionated re-evaluation of leaders he has encountered (surprisingly favorable for some, such as Nixon, whom he called "an intellectually serious and prepared candidate"), autobiographical reminiscences, and insightful, mostly admiring essays on important people in his life, including Studs Terkel (shrewd about politicians, generous to his friends); Beverly Sills and her popular mother, known as Mama Sills; his father (fearless, resilient, fun); and his loving tribute to his wife of 50 years. As for William Buckley, Wills began writing for his conservative National Review in 1957, but his 1960s support of civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War produced a rupture. He describes how, with Buckley's sister Priscilla as intermediary, Wills and Buckley touchingly resumed their friendship before the latter's death in 2008. The book does not recycle old articles. although it includes outtakes, unprintable at the time, such as material about Nixon's marital troubles, omitted from an Esquire article during the 1968 presidential campaign
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

For partisans of the Left and the Right, Wills, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and journalist (and currently professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University), has always been an elusive, even frustrating, figure, and this thoroughly enjoyable and informative memoir shows why. In his public career and personal relationships, he has consistently refused to be held hostage by political ideologies or even “sacred” causes. Predictably, he has often been accused of betrayal by those who assumed he was one of them. But his insistence on remaining an outsider has allowed him to maintain contacts and friendships across the ideological spectrum. Wills writes frankly and often emotionally about deeply personal issues, including his devotion to his wife, his troubled relationship with his father, and his strong Catholic faith. The most absorbing portions of this book are his descriptions and impressions of presidents and other important political figures he has dealt with over five decades. Throughout, his independent streak stays strong. He expresses admiration for Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, and Barry Goldwater; sympathy for Richard Nixon; and sincere affection for his longtime friend, Bill Buckley. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143119893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143119890
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,695,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on December 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This isn't quite what I expected, but it's a good read. This book details a series of recollections of his most valued experiences. He talks of meeting his wife, his complex relationship with Bill Buckley and other National Review colleagues, investigating Nixon, bonding with Hillary Clinton, Studs Terkel, and Thomas D'Allesandro (Nancy Pelosi's brother for those who haven't heard of him, and many other fascinating individuals.It wasn't really long and I'm not sure I would buy it at the hardcover price, but if you have followed Garry Wills' career you'll want to read Outside Looking In.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Farrell on March 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: ADVERTURES OF A JOURNALIST is a well-written book. For this reason, I give it five stars. It consists of a series of Garry Wills' memories about his life. These are mostly an old man's fond memories. Fortunately, he does not seem to be settling scores. But the chapters are not arranged in chronological order. Toward the end, he does have a chapter about his father and his early childhood, and the last chapter is about his private life (his wife and marriage). But most of the other chapters are about his public life as a journalist and the people he met in connection with his journalistic writing.

Prospective readers of this book might reasonably wonder where Wills is coming from, as they say. Catholic sociologists of religion have referred to Catholics in the United States as forming and belonging to a Catholic ghetto. Protestant anti-Catholic bias contributed decisively to the formation and perpetuation of this so-called Catholic ghetto. However, in response to strong external conditions that contributed to making and perpetuating this so-called Catholic ghetto, Catholic themselves undertook the formation of a parallel culture of their own, most obviously through the development of Catholic formal education. Wills is the product of the ghetto Catholic culture of Catholic formal education.

In this new book Garry Wills does not give us exact dates for various events in the course of his life. But he was born in 1934 in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Michigan and Wisconsin. His parents were high school graduates. He tells us that at an early age he had become a bookworm. But he does not reflect on what had prompted him to become a bookworm. His parents weren't bookworms. He went to Catholic schools taught by nuns.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By sleepyreader on February 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Normally, nonfiction will not keep you at the edge of your seat. However, this book grabbed on to me, and did not let go. I could not wait to read more about his escapades or the people he writes about. He communicates his life without hubris, yet, he has lived a marvelous, unassuming and well-intended life. And many of his friends are people I would love to have met once. And more importantly, his stories will make you smile.

Thank you to Gary Wills for writing this. By the way, you don't have to know anything about him or the people he writes about to enjoy the book. He is a brilliant writer who weaves entertaining stories to read.

Overall, this book is well written, easy to read, and flows.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Edward J. Johnson on November 22, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is not really a memoir. It's more a series of vignettes containing Wills's recollections of various times and people who have been important in his life. He's unsparing in his portrait of his father, without being unkind, and his admiration for Studs Terkel oozes off the page. I found it curious that he describes himself as a conservative in these pages; I suppose that's an indication of how far into yahoo-land the people who describe themselves a conservatives today have gone.

The book is full of Wills's clean, erudite prose, and its 184 pages slipped by all too quickly. The book ends with a valentine to his wife, Natalie. It's beautifully written. I hope that when I've been married to my wife for fifty years, I can muster something that comes close to what Wills has written here.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By iHappy on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Do not consider this a memoir. There is only a little introspection throughout (until the end), and not much to teach us about what made Garry Wills the great writer and observer he is. Actually, his "Why I am a Catholic" is more autobiographical, and careful readers of his other books can discern a lot about the man through his writing. Every book he has written, historical or religious, reveals him personally. That's the way it should be with good writers. I have read at least 12 of his books, and I feel I already know the man. "Outside Looking In" gives us a bit more, though, especially on his two most important relationships (William F. Buckley and his wife, Natalie), but the presentation is scattered and lacks the nuance and consideration of the rest of his writings. The chapters here do read like a collection of his greatest hits with no cohesion, and no emotional undertow to pull us in. We, too, are left outside looking in, as dispassionate as Wills himself would like us to believe he is. No, the book is not boring if you are already a Wills fan, but only gives us a little more than we already know. So if you're thinking this book will be a "What Garry Wills Meant" book, you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want some interesting anecdotes from an interesting man, than buy the book.
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