Robert K. Massie

Robert Kinloch Massie III (January 5, 1929 – December 2, 2019) was an American journalist and historian. He devoted much of his career to studying the House of Romanov, Russia's imperial family from 1613 to 1917. Massie was awarded the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Peter the Great: His Life and World.

Robert K. Massie
BornRobert Kinloch Massie III
(1929-01-05)January 5, 1929
Versailles, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 2019(2019-12-02) (aged 90)
Irvington, New York, U.S.
OccupationHistorian, biographer
Alma materYale University
University of Oxford

Early life and education

Massie was born in Versailles, Kentucky, to Robert Massie, Jr., an educator, and Molly, née Kimball, an activist for progressive causes, and was raised there and in Nashville. He earned degrees in American studies from Yale University and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University before serving as a nuclear targeting officer in the United States Navy in the early 1950s.[1]


Massie worked as a journalist for Collier's and from 1959 to 1962 for Newsweek before taking a position at the Saturday Evening Post. He also taught at Princeton and Tulane.[1]

In 1967, after leaving the Saturday Evening Post to concentrate on his historical writing, Massie published his breakthrough book, Nicholas and Alexandra, an authoritative biography of Tsar Nicholas II (1868–1918, reigned 1894–1917) and Alexandra of Hesse (1872–1918), the last Emperor and Empress of Russia. His interest in the Russian imperial house was triggered by the birth of his son, Robert Kinloch Massie IV, who was born with hemophilia—a hereditary disease that also afflicted Nicholas's son and heir to the imperial throne, the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.[1] In 1971 the book was the basis for an Academy Award-winning film with the same title, which starred Michael Jayston alongside Janet Suzman. In his 1995 book The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Massie updated the Nicholas and Alexandra historical biography following the opening of Russian and Soviet archives after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the exhumation of the Tsar, his wife, and their children from unmarked hidden forest graves, their identification from DNA evidence, and their reinterment after a state funeral in the restored Russian Orthodox cathedral at the Peter and Paul Fortress in the renamed St. Petersburg in 1998.[1] He and Suzanne Massie also chronicled their personal experiences as the parents of a hemophiliac child in Journey, published in 1975;[1] the book also describes the differences between the health care systems in the US and France, where the family had moved.

Massie continued to write biographical books on the Russian Imperial family. He won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Peter the Great: His Life and World,[1][2] which inspired a 1986 NBC television network miniseries, Peter the Great, that won three Emmy Awards and starred Maximilian Schell, Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave. In 2011 he published Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, about the Tsarina Catherine the Great,[1] which won the 2012 inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction[3] and the 2012 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.[4]

He also published two books on the naval dreadnoughts of the early 20th century: Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the coming of the Great War (1991) on the four decades preceding World War I[5] and Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (2003) on the role of the ships in the war itself.[1][2]

From 1987 to 1991, Massie was President of The Authors Guild, and he served as an ex officio council member.[6] While president, he called on authors to boycott any store that refused to carry Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses because of threats from the Islamic/Muslim world.[7]

Personal life and death

Massie was married twice, to Suzanne Rohrbach from 1954 to 1990 and to Deborah Karl, his literary agent, from 1992. He had six children, a son and two daughters from each marriage. He died from complications from Alzheimer's disease on December 2, 2019, at the age of 90.[1]

Awards and honors


  • Nicholas and Alexandra: An Intimate Account of the Last of the Romanovs and the Fall of Imperial Russia (Atheneum, 1967; Ballantine Books, 2000, ISBN 0-345-43831-0, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-57912-433-X)
  • Journey (Knopf, 1975) with Suzanne Massie, ISBN 0-394-49018-5
  • Peter the Great: His Life and World (Knopf, 1980, ISBN 0-394-50032-6, Ballantine Books, 1981, ISBN 0-345-29806-3, Wings Books, 1991, ISBN 0-517-06483-9)
  • Last Courts of Europe: Royal Family Album, 1860–1914 (Vendome Press, 1981) introductory text; picture research and description by Jeffrey Finestone, ISBN 0-86565-015-2, Greenwich House/Crown Publishers, 1983, ISBN 0-517-41472-4)
  • Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the coming of the Great War (Random House, 1991, ISBN 0-394-52833-6, Ballantine Books, 1992, ISBN 0-345-37556-4)
  • There's an Old Southern Saying: The Wit and Wisdom of Dan May (Crabby Keys Press, 1993), foreword; compiled by William May Stern, ISBN 0-9638911-0-3
  • The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (Random House, 1995), ISBN 0-394-58048-6 and ISBN 0-679-43572-7
  • Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (Ballantine Books, 2004), ISBN 0-345-40878-0, J. Cape, 2004, ISBN 0-224-04092-8)
  • Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 2011), ISBN 978-0-679-45672-8


  1. Martin, Douglas (December 2, 2019). "Robert K. Massie, Narrator of Russian History, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times.
  2. Taylor, John M. (March 13, 2004). "How WWI was waged at sea deck". The Washington Times.
  3. Kellogg, Carolyn (June 25, 2012). "First-ever Carnegie Awards in Literature go to Enright, Massie". Los Angeles Times (Jacket Copy blog). Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  4. "PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography Winners". PEN America. April 29, 2016. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  5. "Robert Massie". Booknotes (video interview with Massie on Dreadnought). C-Span. March 8, 1992. Archived from the original on September 25, 2016.
  6. "Officers & Board". The Authors Guild. December 1, 2002. Archived from the original on December 17, 2002.
  7. Smith, William E. (March 6, 1989). "Terrorism The New Satans". Time. p. 4. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.

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