Garry Wills (born May 22, 1934) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and prolific author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American politics, American political history and ideology and the Roman Catholic Church. Classically trained at a Jesuit high school and two universities, he is proficient in Greek and Latin. He has written nearly 40 books and since 1973 has been a frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books.
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 practicing Catholic, he has been an excoriating critic of the Vatican and its policies and theology, such as those criticized as part of the Mater si, magistra no challenge.
Wills was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Michigan and Wisconsin, graduating from Campion High School, a Jesuit institution, in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin 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 Yale University in 1961.
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. When he first became involved with National Review he did not know if he was a conservative, calling himself a "distributionist."
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 University in 1980, where he is currently an emeritus professor. His home in Evanston, Illinois is "filled with books", with a converted bedroom dedicated to English literature, another containing Latin literature and books on American political thought, one hallway full of books on economics and religion, "including four shelves on St. Augustine", and another with shelves of Greek literature and philosophy.
He has three children: John Wills, Garry Wills, and Lydia Wills.
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 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 co-winner for nonfiction in 1978 for Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, a book that also won the Merle Curti Award.
Wills has been awarded the honorary degree of L.H.D. by the College of the Holy Cross (1982) and by Bates College (1995).
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).Martin Gardner in "The Strange Case of Garry Wills" states there is a "mystery and strangeness that hovers like a gray fog over everything Wills has written about his faith".