Based on more than a decade’s research and travel, Thornton Wilder: A Life is written by Penelope Niven, distant kin of Thornton’s mother, Isabella Niven Wilder. Wilder (1897–1975) was, by his own admission, a gypsy, peripatetic to the last, dying at seventy-eight in the family home at Hamden, Connecticut, not far from New Haven.

He journeyed and sojourned all over the U.S., Europe, and South America, studied as a schoolboy in China, and served as an officer in North Africa with Air Corps Intelligence during World War II. Though a staunch American, he was equally a citizen of the world, writing, as he stressed, about and for Everyman. He won awards and fame in more or less equal measure for his novels and plays, although it is mostly through the latter that he survives.

Thornton’s very New England father, Amos Parker Wilder, was a...


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