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Robert Massie, biographer of tsars who made Russian history popular, died at the age of 90

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Robert K. Massie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who specialized in best-selling and critically acclaimed biographies of the Russian tsars and discovered a personal connection with the past of the country through a blood disease that suffered both his son and the son of Nicholas II, died in his home in New York.

Massie, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died Monday, his son Christopher Massie said. He was 90.

Similar to David McCullough and Edmund Morris as a popularizer of history, Massie wrote epic biographies about two great tsars: the 900-page "Peter the Great", winner of the Pulitzer in 1981; and the 600 page & # 39; s "Catherine the Great" winner in 2012 of a PEN biography prize. Massie was praised as both a scholar and a literary stylist.

"Massie, who has studied Tsarist Russia for almost half a century, has always been a biographer with the instinct of a novelist," wrote New York Times Kathryn Harrison. “He understands plot – fate – as a function of character, and the narrative perspective that he establishes and maintains, a vision closely aligned with that of his subject, convinces a reader that he is not so much looking at Catherine the Great as from her eyes. "

Massie & # 39; s first book caught his interest in the apparent heir of Nicholas, the Czarevich Alexei, a hemophilia like the oldest of Massie & # 39; s three children, Robert Jr. "Nicholas and Alexandra" was published in 1967, in the middle of the Cold War, and was praised as a long-awaited and balanced account of the last tsar and his family. Massie's book was also a commercial success and the basis for a 1971 film adaptation, starring Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman, who won the Oscar for art direction.

Massie found the film superficial, but took advantage of the publicity to raise money for the treatment of hemophilia.

"Nicholas and Alexandra" made Massie a celebrity, called by strangers who invited him to lunch, and a magnet for relatives and alleged relatives of the Romanovs. He discussed hemophilia with the duke and duchess of Windsor (the duke was the first cousin of the tsarevich), and with Count Mountbatten of Burma, a grandson of Queen Victoria. He received & # 39; thick, thick envelopes & # 39 ;, one with a letter from a woman who identified herself as & # 39; Mrs. J. Edgar Hoover, Her Imperial Majesty Catherine III Romanov-Hoover, diplomatic agent Five Star AG, Head of Mission Lyndon Baines Johnson's Mission. & # 39;

His other works include & # 39; The Romanovs & # 39 ;, which tackled the mystery of the royal family's remains after being executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, and a few books about the military rivalry between Great Britain and Germany in the beginning of the 20th century: & # 39; Dreadnought & # 39; and "Castles of Steel."

Massie and his first wife, Suzanne, worked together in the mid-1970s on & # 39; Journey & # 39 ;, a memoir about their son. The couple, who also collaborated on & # 39; Nicholas and Alexandra & # 39 ;, divorced in 1990. Two years later he married literary agent Deborah Karl, with whom he had three children.

Massie served as president of the Authors Guild from 1987 to 1991, and criticized bookstores in 1989 for drawing Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," which had made Muslims angry and led to threats of violence.

Robert Kinloch Massie was born on January 5, 1929 in Lexington, Ky. He was a & # 39; smart, fiery boy from an old southern family & # 39 ;, wrote Suzanne Massie. He was a Rhodes Scholar who studied American and European history at Yale University and Oxford University. After serving in the navy, he considered going to school to become a teacher or lawyer. But when his wife became pregnant with their first son, born in 1956, he needed immediate income and looked for a job in journalism. He started as an office assistant at Collier, where he would work under Theodore H. White, the future author of the series & # 39; The Making of the President & # 39 ;. Massie later joined Newsweek as a book critic and the Saturday Evening Post as a screenwriter.

By the mid-sixties, he had trouble keeping up with their son's medical bills and was professionally frustrated. For years he had wanted to write about hemophilia. He submitted a story to Reader & # 39; s Digest in the late 1950s, but was rejected and was no longer successful during Newsweek. The Saturday Evening Post had a story of Massie in 1963, but refused a separate sketch of the son of the tsar. (On White's recommendation, Massie was signed by Atheneum for an advance of $ 2500.)

Massie had read enough about Russian history to know that little had been told about the haemophilia of the tsarevich. In the New York Public Library, where he often spent his lunch break, he had discovered letters written between the Tsar and his wife, the Empress Alexandra, who often referred to the condition of their son. Suzanne Massie suggested a book, but her husband was skeptical.

"You see," said Sue, "no one knows this. It has been completely ignored. You could change people's minds about the whole subject," Massie wrote in & # 39; Journey & # 39; , published in 1975.

"When she spoke of Russian history, Russian literature, the Russian church, the Russian people she had met, I began to see that a book could be done, and that only we, as parents of a haemophilia, do the."

Italy writes for The Associated Press

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