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Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Image (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385347464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385347464
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #502,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Q&A with Michael Novak

Q. You have written many books, but this is your first memoir. What prompted you to write this book?

A. My 80th birthday, gratitude to Providence for a wonderfully eventful life, sadness for things not done well, joy in the hundred tough battles fought.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

A. Allow others to meet the great persons – George McGovern, Sarge Shriver, President Reagan, Prime Minister Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and many others – it was my joy to spend some time with.

Q. You are known as an important voice in American Catholicism. What role has your faith played in your ideological evolution?

A. Yes, I am extremely grateful to the Catholic Church. And I hope I have been an “important voice” in the whole of American life, too, because I am very grateful to this country. As Tocqueville predicted, Catholics might one day be the best interpreters of the American creed, and America might be a vibrant meeting place of Jewish-Christian religion and political liberty.

Q. Is there a person or experience that had a significant impact on the development of your faith?

A. My grandfather, my parents, the scores of my “best friends who have been dead for many hundreds of years,” whom I met through reading and study, and the many hundreds of others I’ve been privileged to work with in person. Saints and sinners, both. As James Joyce wrote, “Catholicism is ‘here comes everybody!’” And America itself is the first country made up of every other people on earth, the first “planetary” nation.

Q. Who is the target audience for your book?

A. I hope all my friends and critics read it, and that millions and millions of others enjoy it!

Q. What are some of the highlights of the book?

A. Some of my favorites are the adventures of my days of reporting on the Vietnam War, the ups and downs of all the political campaigns I have participated in since 1960, the battles in the Catholic Church before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). I think there are some good, funny stories here, some crushing defeats, some heartwarming and joyful moments.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. I hope this book represents a faithful witness to the tumultuous events of our country and the Church from 1960 through 2005. I have had a series of wonderful adventures, which Providence sent my way, usually unexpected. I hope this is a faithful mirror of our time, from a singular point of view.


“This wonderful memoir from Michael Novak may seem like a political and economic testament, and it is; but it’s also much more than that. It’s the detailed, engaging eyewitness account of an extraordinary life in extraordinary times; the diary of a decisive half century in the life of our nation and the Church, written from the inside with marvelous eloquence and skill.” —Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
“Whether or not you always agree with him, you will see in this book why Michael Novak is considered one of our most profound thinkers on the relationship between democracy, capitalism, and freedom. This memoir of his intellectual odyssey is both a compelling personal narrative and a provocative intellectual history of our times.” —Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, former chairman of CNN, former managing editor of Time, and author of Einstein and Steve Jobs
Writing from Left to Right is the extraordinary personal story of one of the most extraordinary public intellectuals of our time. Anyone who hasn’t already fallen in love with Michael Novak’s mind and work will do so on reading this winsome, wonderful, and utterly captivating book.” —Mary Eberstadt, author of How the West Really Lost God
“Memoirs are often exercises in rationalization of past choices. But in this set of reflections, characterized by humility and an at-times ruthless self-reckoning, Michael Novak takes us inside some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century. His memoir shows how one man’s love of truth led him to do that most difficult of things—change his mind.” —Samuel Gregg, author of Becoming Europe and research director, Acton Institute
“With his customary insight and moral clarity, Michael Novak leads the reader on an exhilarating excursion through the intellectual landscape of the last fifty years. Few people have enjoyed so varied a career—seminarian, novelist, journalist, scholar, ambassador—and few have written a more engaging and candid testimony to the well-examined life.” —William E. Simon Jr., cofounder of William E. Simon & Sons and 2002 California gubernatorial candidate
“I have known Professor Novak ever since my Stanford days, and also on his visit to Vietnam to meet some of the refugees I was working with and to see the war for himself. He was the one who got me into writing dispatches from Vietnam, and so into my career. Yes, we parted political ways— deeply—but politics is only a little of a person’s humanity, or so Professor Novak taught me years and years ago. We remain very close in each other’s heart.” —Tom Fox, publisher and former editor of the National Catholic Reporter
“Anyone interested in the moral, personal, and intellectual journey of the last half century should read this memoir of the most important theologically inspired citizen I have ever worked with.” —Newt Gingrich
“As a Brit, I have seen many public intellectuals in the U.K. (Paul Johnson, Peter and Christopher Hitchens) as well as the U.S. become disillusioned with the liberal ideology that prevailed among the cultural elites of academy and media. This is an indispensable memoir of the past fifty years, at once engagingly personal and deeply representative.” —Paul Adams, former professor of social work, University of Hawaii and Case Western Reserve
 “Serious-minded elected officials must separate the wheat from the chaff. That is why Michael Novak is indispensable. His genuine civility and humility, clar- ity of thought, willingness to be challenged by facts, and love of America are evident to all who know him and therefore rely upon him . . . Michael Novak is an American treasure.” —Dan Lungren, former U.S. Congressman and California State Attorney General
“Few men have combined the life of the mind and the life of action as completely, and consequentially, as Michael Novak. We see him, in this exhilarating mem- oir, moving naturally between philosophy and statecraft, collaborating with the deepest thinkers and boldest leaders of age. With George McGovern and Ronald Reagan, with Gabriel Marcel and John Paul II, Novak is always teaching and always learning. Watch closely and you will learn his secret: He grasped early on that the human person is the subject, not the object, of history and politics. Readers who pick up Writing from Left to Right expecting a partisan trope will be surprised and edified.” —Christopher DeMuth, distinguished fellow, Hudson Institute
“One of America’s greatest moral philosophers—the theologian of democratic capitalism—relives not only his own intellectual journey, but that of America: from the turbulent 1960s and ’70s, through renewal in the 1980s, and into an uncertain future in which his wisdom can be our guide. An enriching experience to read.” —Morton Kondracke, Roll Call
“This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the politics and intellectual debates in the United States over the last half century. The evolution of Michael Novak’s thought illuminates the changes the country has undergone as well as the fundamental moral and strategic issues we will face in the decades ahead.” —Carl Gershman, president, National Endowment for Democracy
 “Michael Novak’s life could have made a novel—seminarian, witness to Vatican II, equally in the thick of the radical politics of the 1960s and the resurgence of conservatism in the 1980s, a favorite of John Paul II, an advisor and often friend to leaders as different as Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes; and yet also a theologian and public intellectual whose books have influenced countless lives, including mine. His gentle voice comes through on every page of this recounting of a remarkable life.” —Charles Murray, W. H. Brady Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, and author of Coming Apart and The Bell Curve

“The ‘journey from liberal to conservative’—this is the familiar saga of some New York Jewish intellectuals who made that journey half a century ago. Mi- chael Novak’s memoir is by an eminent Catholic intellectual, from a very dif- ferent social, ethnic, as well as religious, background, who arrived at the same destination about the same time. It is a riveting tale of the events, characters, and, more important, ideas that helped shape his world—and ours.” —Gertrude Himmelfarb, author of The People of the Book
“An engaging, personable, and personal account of a muscular intellectual. Mi- chael Novak draws us into the events and ideas that propelled his evolution in politics and economics. His insights and analysis are honest and help explain our nation’s recent social, political, and economic history. On a personal note, Michael knew my dad very well and understood his essence—Jack Kemp was always a quarterback. I heard my dad praise Novak’s work many times, and Mi- chael and Karen were like family.” —James Kemp, president, Jack Kemp Foundation 

More About the Author

Michael Novak, retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute, is an author, philosopher, and theologian. Michael Novak resides in Ave Maria, Florida as a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University.

Ever since The Open Church hit shelves in 1964, Michael Novak has been a voice of insight on American and Catholic culture. Author of more than 45 books on culture, philosophy, and theology, Novak continues to influence and guide right thinking. Winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize, Novak's Westminster Abbey address remains as instructive it was two decades ago. As a founding director of First Things and writer for many publications, Novak has sought to build up our institutions.

Customer Reviews

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Donald M. Bishop on September 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this memoir, Michael Novak relates his engagement with political, economic, and cultural issues from the 1960s through the first years of our new century. From a Catholic, working class, Democratic family in Pennsylvania, he was an ardent liberal who worked for the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and George McGovern. In time, however, he saw ill tendencies in liberalism, and he saw the Democratic party increasingly influenced by academic and Hollywood elites. This began his journey from left to right.

In the 1980s, then, he supported Ronald Reagan. Novak elaborated the insight that in addition to political and economic systems, nations have moral-cultural systems too. Named to represent the U.S. in human rights diplomacy, he drew on his studies of history, religion and culture to enlarge and deepen the concepts of human rights in the final decade of the Cold War. In the 1990s, he influenced the social and economic thinking of Pope John Paul II.

A short review can hardly describe the richness of "Writing from Left to Right" and its direct, smooth, compact, and readable prose style. Novak was a journalist at the Second Vatican Council, and his retrospectives on the Catholic Church dispel many shallow portrayals. His review of the intellectual underpinnings of socialism and capitalism are telling. So are the profiles of Shriver, Reagan, Hubert Humphrey, Jack Kemp, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Forbes, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. He is candid about some of his missteps in diplomacy. He praises Bill Clinton in unexpected ways. Chapters 22 and 23 address contemporary intellectual trends, and he calls for honest conversation on divisive issues. He closes with memories of John Paul II.

If you're like me, trying to grasp the tumultuous changes of the past half century, Michael Novak's lens on the times provides a clear focus.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Lee Barrett on November 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Novak gives an insider's account of the intellectual and political forces that shaped the latter half of the 20th century. Although he tends to gloss over the internal conflicts that seem to have pushed him from the left towards the right, Novak captures the broad outlines of the theories and the issues that have polarized United States politics, indeed US culture, in the adolescence of the 21st century. Of greatest interest is Novak's chapter on economy, politics and culture, especially for anyone who has read Thomas Frank and his more virulent take on modern conservatives.

Novak's latest work misses the mark in a few areas though. In the latter half of the book, it reads more like a diary/travel guide. While Novak provides some interesting insider views and tales of Reagan, Thatcher and the like, he really fails to connect the dots between 1989 and 2013 which he acknowledges. At times the story is one of a wide-eyed star struck politico fan, almost too giddy to be believable. Therein lies the true beauty of Writing from Left to Right though. In an era when so many of us have become "political agnostics" it is refreshing to read someone who, in the golden years of a notable career, still has respect for the process and genuine hope for both the politicians and the people. A little bit of Novak's outlook would go a long way these days.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gary Mullennix on October 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The past happened, history is what someone wrote about it., someone with insight once said. Mr. Novak has given a worthwhile accounting of the many issues and the means by which men (and women) tried to advance their desires or stop another's as billions of people lived and died through the play of our past. While there is always the presence of the quirky, unknowable happenstance of history, Mr. Novak demonstrates clearly how men with ideas and effort can change the course of both the Ship of State and the individual lives of so many. He has been one of those with a shoulder to the wheel as he aptly demonstrates. More so, with clarity, he points out the several crisis we still face and is decidedly discouraged about how well we will find the means to resolve the death grip of opposing ideas held by the left and fright. It can't stay as it is and won't. But no one can with certainty predict the future we will experience. Mr. Novak makes it clear what needs to be done and how to do it. And so, we've been told and warned. But who will lead us?
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By jbtheref on November 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love books like this because they drive the narrow minded ideologues crazy because it makes them think rather than just scream! Long time ago I was on the liberal side of politics but was open to listen to other people's opinions. That's what this book is: another person's intelligent opinion about politics. If nothing else, it'll give you some perspective on how a person changed his philosophy. It's a "mind opener" and if you're at all interested in politics and what's going on in today's political climate you'll find this book enjoyable.
If not......stick to yelling and continue to sound stupid.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pete on January 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Personal memoirs can be an engaging read if you have interest in a particular person. Some, however, do more than just tell you about the life of the writer. Sometimes they pull back the curtains on a particular period of time and relate details about historical events. Such is the case with Michael Novak’s latest book Writing from Left to Right : My Journey from Liberal to Conservative.

For those those unfamiliar with Michael Novak, he is an accomplished author of 45+ books as well as a journalist appearing in many notable magazines such as National Review. His career really took off with his book The Open Church, published in 1964 detailing the second session of Vatican II.

In Writing from Left to Right, Michael shares his experiences and thoughts on some of the major events that have occurred in the past 50+ years. The book on its surface is what the the title suggests, his personal story about his journey from liberal to conservative. Along the way Michael sheds some light on the people and events that caused him to switch his ideological views.

The book begins with the influence of his father, than moving on to his 12 years of study for the priesthood which he ultimately determined was not his calling and his time in Harvard. He discusses influences from his days there that would leave an impression on him forever. Gabriel Marcel taught him that “When someones ceases being just an “it” to you and appears, even for a moment, as a “thou”, someone already known to you in the slightest way, you have stepped from the realm of objects to the realm of persons.” Marcel among other influential persons at Harvard would plant the seeds for Michael’s future humanitarian efforts.
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