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Award-Winning Historian Robert Massie, Longtime Irvington Resident, Dies

Robert Massie
Robert Massie Photo Credit: Nashville Public Library

An award-winning historian who called the Hudson Valley home for much of his life, died in his Westchester home.

Robert K. Massie, an author and historian of Europe and pre-Revolutionary Russia, died in Irvington on Monday, Dec. 2. Massie, who was 90 years old, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time of his death.

A Pulitzer Prize winner, Massie’s published books on Russian tzars that sold more than six million copies, including “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,” “Peter the Great,” and “Nicholas and Alexandra,” which he wrote when his son was diagnosed with hemophilia like the tsarevich Alexi.

Massie won the Pulitzer in 1981 for “Peter the Great,” and was a winner in 2012 of a PEN award for biography in 2012 for “Catherine the Great.”

“Massie, who has spent almost half a century studying czarist Russia, has always been a biographer with the instincts of a novelist,” the New York Times’ Kathryn Harrison wrote. “He understands plot — fate — as a function of character, and the narrative perspective he establishes and maintains, a vision tightly aligned with that of his subject, convinces a reader he’s not so much looking at Catherine the Great as he is out of her eyes.”

Born in Versailles, Kentucky, he was raised in Nashville before earning degrees from Yale University and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He later served as a nuclear targeting officer in the Navy in the early 1950s before turning to literature and teaching.

Massie served as president of the Authors Guild from 1987 through 1991, strongly criticizing bookstores in the late 1980s for pulling Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” which had angered Muslims and led to threats of violence.

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