Herman Wouk, who regaled millions with his bestselling novels about World War II and the Holocaust, died on Friday at his California home. He was 103, NPR reports. The author of sweeping historical novels like The Winds of War and War and Remembrance—as well as the Pulitzer-Prize winning The Caine Mutiny, later adapted into a Humphrey Bogart movie—embraced his populism even when the critics sniffed. "I write a traditional novel, which is rather unfashionable, and I've taken a lot of kicking for it,” he told the Washington Post. "But the strength of my work comes from this intense grounding in the 18th- and 19th-century novelists." A 1955 Time cover story depicted him as a bulwark against "literary stereotypes of rebellion" like "sexual emancipation" and "social protest."
Wouk says his outlook was formed by war. A gag writer for a radio comedian in the 1930s, Wouk joined the Navy in World War II and came out a different man: "That, I think, is where my adult education really began, because there, the hard shell of a New York wise guy cracked and fell off," he once said. "The shallow conceit of a successful gag man faded away. ... When I came back, there no longer was a question of a gag writing. I wanted to write novels." Among those novels was Marjorie Morningstar, which drew on his background as the son of Jewish immigrants in New York City and broke ground for Jewish writers like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. "He really was the Jackie Robinson of Jewish American fiction," says Simon & Schuster's president, Jonathan Karp. No cause of death was given. (Read more writer stories.)