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Prolific U.S. Naval Historian, Biographer Nathan Miller Dies

Monday, October 25, 2004; Page B06

Nathan Miller, 77, author of more than a dozen books of U.S. history and biography, died Oct. 22 at the Washington Home after a series of strokes.

A veteran of World War II in the Pacific, Mr. Miller centered his historical writing on his two major enthusiasms, the U.S. Navy and the Roosevelt family. "FDR: An Intimate History" (1983) and "Theodore Roosevelt: A Life" (1992) were critically praised and remain steady sellers.

His most durable historical work was "The U.S. Navy: A History" (1977), a survey from the fleet's origins to modern times, which was published as a textbook by the Naval Institute and in an illustrated edition by American Heritage.

His last book, "New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America," was published last year, 14 months after he suffered his first stroke. Washington Post reviewer Jonathan Yardley noted that the standard history of the decade was written by Frederick Lewis Allen in 1931, but, he wrote, "Now it is time for Allen to move over. Nathan Miller does not have Allen's stylistic pizzazz, but he is a lucid writer, a solid researcher, and he has the advantage of perspective."

Mr. Miller, born in Baltimore, received his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Maryland before becoming a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including a three-year tour as the paper's chief Latin American correspondent, based in Rio de Janeiro.

Upon his return, he was assigned to the Sun's Washington bureau until becoming an investigator and speechwriter for Sen. John L. McClellan (D-Ark.) on the permanent subcommittee on investigations and later the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Miller said he left journalism to give himself more hours to write. After the success of his third book, he left the congressional staff in 1977 to be a full-time freelance writer.

Between naval histories and political biographies, Miller's works ranged from "The Founding Finaglers" (1976), on corruption in early America, to "Spying for America" (1989), a history of U.S. espionage beginning with the American Revolution, to "Star-Spangled Men" (1998), his subjective selection of the nation's 10 worst presidents. He ranked Richard M. Nixon and James Buchanan at the bottom and added that Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy were the most overrated. Though not among the worst 10, he would not place Jefferson and Kennedy among the best 10, either.

Mr. Miller was a portly, stylish bon vivant, a patron of the arts who in his latter years stepped out with a toupee and a gold-headed walking stick. Friends considered him a living encyclopedia of U.S. history.

For almost 20 years until his first stroke, Mr. Miller and his wife, Jeanette Miller, a psychiatric social worker, operated a bed-and-breakfast near Dupont Circle. In 2001, they established the annual Nathan and Jeanette Miller Lecture in American History and Public Affairs at their alma mater in College Park.

Jeanette Miller died July 30.

Survivors include a brother, Samuel Miller of Baltimore.

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