Mr. Fussell had been a formidable scholar of 18th-century British literature, having written several books on the subject before he struck a popular chord in 1975 with “The Great War and Modern Memory,” which won the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
In the book, Mr. Fussell (rhymes with “muscle”) wrote of how World War I caused a prevailing disillusionment in society, expressed through poetry, journalism and art. He described an “essentially ironic” sensibility that emerged from the war and colored people’s thinking for the rest of the 20th century.
It was a daringly original interpretation of cultural history, and it brought Mr. Fussell a large following among readers who would never have touched his books on 18th-century poetry or the literary development of Samuel Johnson.
In a Washington Post review, author George Woodcock praised “The Great War and Modern Memory” as a “remarkable exercise in cultural history.” Critic Robert Hughes of Time magazine called the book “a scrupulously argued and profoundly affecting account of what the Great War changed.”
In 1980, Mr. Fussell published another influential study, “Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars,” which was one of the first scholarly works to treat travel writing as a distinct literary form. He rediscovered neglected books and authors and argued that the best travel writing — and non-fiction in general — was literature of the highest merit.
In a review of “Abroad” for The Post, scholar and biographer Peter Stansky wrote: “It is hard to imagine the case for travel writing, as a genre worthy of a place alongside poetry and the novel, being made more impressively.”
For decades, Mr. Fussell — who had a PhD but disliked the title of “Dr.” — taught seminars on 18th-century literature at Rutgers University and later at the University of Pennsylvania. In some ways, he aspired to be a man of letters like his literary models from the Augustan age.
He wrote acerbic essays for magazines and became known for his unpredictable views. A 1982 Post profile dubbed him “the nation’s newest world-class curmudgeon.”
Mr. Fussell alternately skewered the American class system and, in a famous essay called “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” said the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II saved countless American lives.
As a writer, he focused more and more on his experiences as a World War II infantry officer. Mr. Fussell, who received the Bronze Star Medal, was severely wounded by an artillery shell that killed a sergeant standing next to him.
“I was sprayed with the contents of a soldier’s torso when I was lying behind him . . . out of the holes in the back of his field jacket flew little clouds of tissue, blood and powdered cloth,” he later wrote in an essay. “Near him, another man raised himself to fire, but the machine-gun caught him in the mouth, and as he fell he looked back at me with surprise, blood and teeth dribbling out onto the leaves.”