Book Review: Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

Youngblood Hawke
Herman Wouk

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you don’t know already that Youngblood Hawke is my top all-time read, now you do! Before my review, I’m going to give you ten reasons why this book sits on top of my pile:

  1. Its main character, Youngblood Hawke, is someone you instantly like, despite his flaws and weaknesses. I love his good nature.
  2. The rest of the many characters are weak and strong in different ways and very realistic. A couple of them you will love to hate. Others are good and honorable, but their weaknesses often surface and cause problems.
  3. The dialogue is great, and it’s not just between a few characters. There is a lot of variety in personalities and situations.
  4. There are some serious themes and social and political commentary, but…
  5. It’s not all serious – there are many funny parts, particularly the scenes that involve Arthur’s mother.
  6. The big machine of business in New York and Hollywood is always interesting. The story takes place between 1946 and 1953 and, while times have changed in many major ways, the way people relate to each other as they negotiate these fantastic deals still seems relevant.
  7. There is plenty of romantic drama, though it’s certainly subdued compared to today’s standards!
  8. Youngblood Hawke’s work ethic is awesome! It certainly is his downfall, but it’s fascinating to imagine a writer who is so driven and who has such long view of what he wants to say. He always has two or three future books mapped out in his head, and beyond that a plan to get down to his serious work.
  9. There is a lot of foreshadowing. I enjoy looking back on this and I think it is one of the ways to tie together a great story.
  10. It has a very satisfying ending, not to be revealed here!

Youngblood Hawke is the story of a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist. Publishers, agents, Broadway producers, filmmakers, real estate developers and, of course, women, all want a piece of this larger-than-life, good-natured and ambitious personality. Hawke’s goal all along is to make enough money so that he can really get down to business and write his most serious work, something he calls his American Comedy.

He has a work ethic like no other, writes all through the night, sleeps very little and spends the rest of his time trying to manage his new successful life.

But there are many daytime detours. He’s in love with his editor, Jeanne Green, but he can’t resist the lure of Frieda Winter, an attractive older married woman, who is eager to set him up in the Plaza and manage his affairs. And Hawke can’t resist lots of other women. He also jumps right into a variety of questionable investments, including hog futures and other commodities. And unable to say no, Hawke agrees to a series of risky real estate ventures with smooth-talking Scotty Hoag, an old college friend. There are also movie rights to negotiate, screen plays to write, and plays to adapt. And of course there’s the brownstone he’s gutted and is refurbishing, a major money pit.

Almost all of these characters are pre-occupied with money and success, and also avoiding taxes. Hawke’s mother is obsessed with a lawsuit about mining rights, convinced she was bilked out of a huge sum of money by her dead husband’s unfriendly relatives. No one takes her seriously, but she has a way of sensing a con and is tenacious about getting her due. Scotty Hoag is at the center of this ongoing lawsuit and Wouk shows us how he tries to wriggle free.

Wouk also gives us a good look at the business deals, contracts and the crazy negotiations that take place on both coasts and the huge contrast between Hollywood glitz and New York’s publishing world. His story shows us the difference between money and art and gives us characters that struggle with honor.

This is a huge book and an entire section of the book shows one character’s such struggle with honor as he is forced to testify about his links to the Communist party. Karl Fry’s personal battle against pressure to name names shows the power of his resistance and the personal toll it takes. It’s a battle that brings all the key players together and sets up Hawke’s ultimate challenge.

Pushed to his limits, Hawke ignores recurring symptoms of a head injury from years ago. We watch and hope for the best as he works maniacally and under incredible financial pressure to complete his latest book. His dream is just ahead and we hope he’ll get there.

Youngblood Hawke is 800 pages of thinking entertainment. It’s not exactly a fast read, but it’s lots of fun and well worth the commitment. So go on back to the 1940s and 50s, get to know this terrific character and see if this book makes it to the top of your list!

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

  1. I’ve started reading Youngblood Hawke again for the third time in about 15 years. (I did complete the whole tome the first two times.) The other night I got tired of television and watching and reading things on the internet and You Tube.
    I got up from the computer and hunted for Hawke. It didn’t take long and I was soon in my window seat, not believing the way Wouk could put together a story with such description and feeling.
    Wouk, I understand, is 102 years old.
    I’m just 30 behind him and hopefully will probably read Hawke a few more times.

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