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