… Outside Looking In functions like an erudite jukebox, summoning amusing, tragic and telling anecdotes at a rapid clip, each well told, all enriching our understanding of postwar America's politics, passions and pieties. … [It] is essential for readers interested in this prolific and immensely gifted writer - notwithstanding his protestations that they should not be.
The Washington Post
…the most limber and humane book Mr. Wills has written in years…Outside Looking In is, most fundamentally, a series of pointed scenes from a busy life. Its vaguely oxymoronic subtitle ("Adventures of an Observer") seems misleading. No one who counted William F. Buckley, John Waters, Studs Terkel, Beverly Sills and Murray Kempton among his many friends, and who had close-up views of many of the last century's signal events, can qualify as a true outsider.
The New York Times
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 (Oct.)
Wills dines with Hillary Clinton, is on John Waters's Christmas card list, and sailed often with William F. Buckley Jr. But he sees himself as a lifetime outsider, looking in on politics, contemporary culture, and religion. His "confessions of a conventional bookworm" will engage readers with the issues and people he has covered over his long career as a journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America). He writes lovingly of his years in Baltimore and includes remembrances of the glory days of Johnny Unitas and the Colts and his connections to the work of antiwar activists Dan and Philip Berrigan. A personal reflection on his father is both distant and warmWills refers to him simply as "Jack" but wraps up the section by acknowledging a small part of his own personality that is like his father's. Verdict Wills's curiosity and personal integrity shine through this intellectual memoir that is both intimate and journalistic. Readers who have followed Wills's writing career will welcome these reflections on his life and the world around him.Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.
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Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, 2010, etc.) offers up a pleasantly revealing grab bag of memories.
These rocking-chair ruminations are relaxed, intimate and impressionistic. Though he writes that he "was determined to be an outsider looking in, not a participant," he thoroughly engages with his subjects here, a number of whom were friends. These vest-pocket profiles are a genuine mix, from William F. Buckley, who emerges not as the bombastic right-winger he projected in his public life, but as a generous, risk-taking soul, a man whose "gifts were facility, flash, and charm, not depth of prolonged wrestling with a problem," to Wills's wife, who receives as endearing a love letter as the retiring Wills will likely ever openly tender. The author has canny things to say about public figures, including Richard Nixon ("an emotionally wounded man who rises to power without ever becoming a full human being"); Thomas D'Alesandro III, the hard-boiled mayor of Baltimore who cut the entitled legs out from under presidential aspirant Jerry Brown; and fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel. But much of the best stuff concerns people at the edge of the limelight, such as organizer Septima Clark, who let Andrew Young know that arriving at a voter-registration drive in a chartered plane was "no way to join dirt-poor people getting literacy qualifications in order to vote"; opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin ("listening to the man's beautiful barking was like hearing a cave sing"); and James Bevel, the daring strategist for the SCLC who later joined Lyndon LaRouche's party and later still was convicted of incest. Only rarely do his comments fail to have bite.
Ultimately, it is Wills himself who shines brightest from these pages—owlish, ethical, skeptical of power, deep of faith and achingly honest.