Chances are, this is the closest thing we are going to get to a Herman Wouk autobiography. Not that The Language God Talks sets out to be any such thing. Its intention is to explain why Wouk believes. Sure, Richard Feynman, with a father born in Minsk same as Wouk's father was born in Minsk, refused to have a bar mitzvah. Sure the popular science Wouk reads--and Wouk apparently reads a lot of it--mostly considers belief unnecessary, when it bothers to consider the matter at all. Sure modernity's arrow is in the direction of non-belief. Wouk believes, he revels in the complexity of the Talmud, he adores the Prophets and the Psalms, he actually goes to the synagogue on a regular basis. Those of us with a soft spot in our hearts for this tradition don't see that explanation is necessary or perhaps possible. But we're not the ones writing the book.
To be honest, if you are really interested in the arguments for belief or non-belief there are better places to go. What this book has that the others don't have are fascinating snippets of autobiography. Wouk's encounters with Richard Feynman. How Wouk conceived the novels on WWll, and how the conception changed as he was trying to put it together. How he met the man who showed up in the novels as Pug Henry. How Wouk researched the books for years and years, and how at one point he considered himself in a race to finish them in the time he had left. Even hints on who were the originals of the characters in The Caine Mutiny. And along the way, how Wouk sought out Raul Hilberg, and how the University of Vermont, where Hilberg taught, had no idea that a great historian resided in its midst.
Somewhere in the book Wouk tells the story of an engineer who spent all his professional working life in Australia, which he has come to love, and who eventually decides to retire to his native state of Nevada. Before he leaves, he looks around, knowing he might never see Australia again. Wouk doesn't hide what he is doing. He is lovingly looking around at his own creations, as if he might not see them again. His own invented characters live for him. The book sometimes has an elegiac tone.
Of course he only talks about what he wants to talk about. There is lots, lots and lots he leaves out: his book, his privilege. Hint to those who write biography: here is an interesting subject, with a fine humanist mind, who lived in an interesting time. But we take what we can get. For those of us who care about his novels, this book, take it all in all, is worth it.