Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert K. Massie III To Speak at CMC’s Athenaeum on Oct. 1: History, Biography, and Human Agency

His book, Nicholas and Alexandra, was an international best seller in 1969, and his follow-up, Peter the Great: His Life and World, won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and inspired an Emmy Award-winning 1986 NBC mini-series starring Maximilian Schell, Laurence Olivier, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Famed biographer and military historian Robert K. Massie III delivered a dinner lecture on Oct. 1 at CMC’s Athenaeum. Massie visited campus as the 2012 Ricardo J. Quinones Distinguished Lecturer, sponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies. His lecture was the first in a Gould Center sponsored series on “History, Biography, and Human Agency.” The morning after his dinner address, Mr. Massie conducted an informal seminar for CMC students and faculty, arranged by Gould Center Director Robert Faggen, the Barton Evans and H. Andrea Neves Professor of Literature.

Mr. Massie’s newest book, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 2012), was the subject of a recent New York Times story that also split time delving into the personal life of the longtime, award-winning writer, who lives in New York with the youngest two of his six children, and second wife, Deborah Karl, a former literary agent. Whether joking or not, he tells writer Charles McGrath that one reason he keeps writingeven at the age of 82is because he keeps having children, and “we can’t count on scholarships.”

Within weeks of Catherine the Great’s September 2012 release, Publisher’s Weekly was calling it one of the top 10 books of the year, and Newsweek hailed it a “compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman.” The book captures the very real, once-upon-a-time life of a German princess (Sophia) who, in 1744, at the age of 14, was moved by her mother to Russia to marry a prince and bear him an heir. There she would become one of the world’s richest and most powerful women, ruler of Russia’s then-largest empire.

In a touching New York Times essay Massie crafted on the heels of finishing that book, he talks of how tough it is once such deeply involved manuscripts are handed in for biographers like himself to say goodbye to the subjects they’ve come to know so intimately. Writes Massie: I have just finished my Catherine the Great. I am packing up my notes, clearing shelves in my office, moving boxes to my cellar and garage. I don’t want the books from which I learned Catherine’s story to be too far away.

(Read the essay in full.)

Massie, widely regarded as the foremost expert on the Russian royal family, is perhaps most famous for Nicholas and Alexandra, a biography of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his wife, Alexandra of Hesse. It remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for 46 weeks, was translated into 17 languages, and was made into a film that was nominated for nine Academy Awards.

The American historian was born in 1929 and spent much of his youth in Nashville, Tenn. He studied American history at Yale University and modern European history at Oxford University on his Rhodes Scholarship. Massie went to work as a journalist for Newsweek from 1959 to 1964 and then took a position at the Saturday Evening Post.

After he and his family left America for France, Massie wrote and published his breakthrough book, Nicholas and Alexandra. His interest in the Tsar’s family was triggered by the birth of his son, the Rev. Robert Kinloch Massie, who suffers from hemophilia, a hereditary disease that also afflicted the last Tsar’s son, Alexei. In 1995, in his book The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Massie updated Nicholas and Alexandra with much newly-discovered information.