Berger, Thomas Louis

Born: July 20, 1924
Died: July 13, 2014

Ohio connection: Birth


Thomas Louis Berger, deemed “one of the 20th century’s most important writers in the English-speaking world” by the Times Literary Supplement, was born on July 20, 1924, in Cincinnati, Ohio. This satiric and darkly funny novelist is revered by writers and critics everywhere who, like Thomas Edwards of The New York Times Book Review, cannot understand “why Thomas Berger isn’t more generally recognized as one of the masters of contemporary American fiction.” Berger, a 1948 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, worked as a librarian at Columbia University and for The New York Times Index and Popular Science Monthly before publishing his first novel, Crazy in Berlin, in 1958. The novel is the first of four that follows “everyman” Carlo Reinhart from adolescence through middle age. Crazy in Berlin employs mock-heroic form to satirize an unheroic subject.  While following “mock-hero” and everyman Carlo Reinhart, the novel also chronicles suburban American life and the struggles of the common man in post-World-War-II America. The Reinhart saga continues in Reinhart in Love (1962), Vital Parts (1970) and Reinhart’s Women (1981). Although Thomas Berger wrote five plays, to include Other People (1970) and The Burglars (1988); a collection of short stories, Granted Wishes: Three Stories (1984) and 23 novels (including 1984 Pulitzer Prize nominee The Fued), he is perhaps best known for his book Little Big Man (1964), which The New York Times Book Review critic R.V. Cassill called “the best novel ever written about the American west.” The novel, whose movie was also a hit at the box office in 1970, details the prairie life of another mock-hero and everyman, 111-year-old Jack Crabb, the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Berger’s more recent novels include Best Friends (2003), about two completely different men who are life-long best friends and the wife that comes between them, and Adventures of the Artificial Woman (2004), about a man who, dissatisfied with modern American women, decides to build himself the perfect mate.

Berger was a writer in residence at the University of Kansas in 1974 and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Southampton College, Long Island University, in 1975–76.  He lectured at Yale University in 1981 and 1982, and was a Regents’ Lecturer at the University of California, Davis, in 1982.  Berger lived in New York, in a town on the Hudson River. He died on July 13, 2014 at the age of 89.

Dial fellowship, 1962; Western Heritage Award, and Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award, National Institute of Arts and Letters, both 1965, for Little Big Man; Ohioana Book Award, 1982, for Reinhart’s Women; Pulitzer prize nomination, 1984, for The Feud; Doctor of Letters, Long Island University, 1986; honorary member, Phi Alpha Theta.