Writing from Left to Right

My Journey from Liberal to Conservative


Engagingly, writing as if to old friends and foes, Michael Novak shows how Providence (not deliberate choice) placed him in the middle of many crucial events of his time: a month in wartime Vietnam, the student riots of the 1960s, the Reagan revolution, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Bill Clinton's welfare reform, and the struggles for human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also spent fascinating days, sometimes longer, with inspiring leaders like Sargent Shriver, Bobby Kennedy, George McGovern, Jack Kemp, Václav Havel, President Reagan, Lady Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II, who helped shape — and reshape — his political views.
Yet through it all, as Novak’s sharply etched memoir shows, his focus on helping the poor and defending universal human rights remained constant; he gradually came to see building small businesses and envy-free democracies as the only realistic way to build free societies. Without economic growth from the bottom up, democracies are not stable. Without protections for liberties of conscience and economic creativity, democracies will fail. Free societies need three liberties in one: economic liberty, political liberty, and liberty of spirit.
Novak’s writing throughout is warm, fast paced, and often very beautiful. His narrative power is memorable.

Published: September 3, 2013


“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

“Serious-minded elected officials must separate the wheat from the chaff. That is why Michael Novak is indispensable. His genuine civility and humility, clarity 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

“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 of an extraordinary life in extraordinary times; the diary of a decisive half century in the life of our nation and Church, written from the inside with marvelous eloquence and skill.”

Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput
OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

“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 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

“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.
Co-founder, William E. Simon & Sons, 2002 California gubernatorial candidate

“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 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

“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 memoir, 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. Michael Novak’s memoir is by an eminent Catholic intellectual, from a very different 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. Michael 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 Michael and Karen were like family.” 

James Kemp
President, Jack Kemp Foundation