In 1962, Joseph Heller was 39 years old and had just published his first novel. Catch-22, a satirical anti-war story set during the Second World War but critiquing America of the 1950s and '60s, would become one of the most famous novels of the 20th century and would coin the phrase synonymous for a contradictory choice.
Heller’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, was also the American publisher of Bertrand Russell, and Russell was sent a proof copy of Catch-22 in advance of its publication. Russell loved the book, and his secretary, Ralph Schoenman, arranged for Heller and his wife to visit Russell and his wife, Edith, at Plas Penrhyn, their home in Wales, on September 17, 1962. At that meeting, Heller inscribed a copy of Catch-22 as follows:
To Bertrand Russell,
Who has honored me,
and has honored all mankind.
September 17, 1962
Heller’s feeling of ‘honor’ is also evident in his follow-up letter to Russell, dated October 31, 1962. He speaks of “the full measure of my awe and gratitude” and also credits Russell with bringing about an end to the Cuban missile crisis: “Little did I think when I gave you my personal assurance there would be no crisis over Cuba that you would be the one to avert war. Thank you.” (For background on Russell’s role, see the introduction to the telegram from John F. Kennedy to Russell). In his November 29th reply, Russell tells Heller that he would like to see him again either in New York or England; however, a second meeting would never happen, and Russell would not travel again to the United States.
Heller also wrote to Schoenman on October 31 and enclosed a clipping from the New York Post issue of October 26 that contains an account of Heller’s visit with Russell (both the letter and the clipping are in the Russell archives).
Russell’s copy of Catch-22, as signed by Heller, can be viewed at the Bertrand Russell Archives (Russ Lib 2036). His proof copy can also be seen there (Russell Archives, Box 2.3).
Sources: (1) Letter from Bertrand Russell to Joseph Heller, 29 November 1962 (Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 10.48, Document 110803). (2) Letter from Joseph Heller to Ralph Schoenman, 31 October 1962 (Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 10.48, Document 110800).
390 WEST END AVENUE
NEW YORK 24, N.Y.
October 31, 1962
Lord Bertrand Russell
22 Argyll Mansions
London, S.W.3, England
Dear Lord Russell:
Little did I think when I gave you my personal assurance there would be no crisis over Cuba that you would be the one to avert war. Thank you.
When I saw you I don’t think I conveyed to you—just as I know I will be inadequate to convey to you now—the full measure of my awe and gratitude that someone of your great distinction should take the trouble to initiate a meeting with the author of a novel you had just finished reading. Both Mrs. Heller and I enjoyed every moment with you and Lady Russell, and we curse that blasted English fog which made it necessary to shorten the time we spent together. This is our only regret, and it is a very deep one: that we were not able to spend as much time with you as we would have liked. The knowledge that I might have an opportunity to talk with you again would be the strongest incentive imaginable for our trying to arrange things so that another trip to England would be possible soon.
My secret wish, however, is that the next place we meet will be in New York and I hope very much that you will decide to come here. I am most optimistic of the benefits to the world that would result.
 The note contains a draft of Russell’s reply.
 Heller credits Russell’s intervention as bringing an end to the Cuban missile crisis.
 Heller and his wife visited Russell and Edith Russell on September 17, 1962.
 Russell had just finished reading Heller’s Catch 22.
 No New York meeting took place; Russell never travelled to the US again.
Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 10.48, Document 110799. Used with permission of the Estate of Joseph Heller, via ICM Partners, New York. Copy provided for personal and research use only. For any other use, permission of the copyright holder is required.