Leon Uris, 78, who wove history and adventure into mega-selling books such as "Exodus" and "Trinity," which ensured his place as one of the best-known novelists of the past century, died June 21 at his home in Shelter Island, N.Y. He had kidney failure.
Mr. Uris, a Baltimore native of hardscrabble beginnings, said his Jewish heritage and ardent Zionism inspired many of his books, notably "Exodus" and "Mila 18," but he did not consider himself a writer concerned only with Jewish themes. Captivated by stories about grit and determination, he saw in the Irish independence movement a similar history of political strife and made it the subject of "Trinity."
"Exodus" (1958), perhaps his most popular work, was about an American nurse and an Israeli guerrilla fighter who become involved romantically and politically during the fight to establish Israel. The book was translated into more than 50 languages and smuggled into communist countries, where it was viewed as a landmark publication chronicling the spirit of Jewish struggle.
Otto Preminger directed the 1960 film version starring Eva Marie Saint and Paul Newman.
Mr. Uris disparaged the film adaptations of his books as unfaithful to his words and said he was proud to have been fired from those projects as a screenwriter by directors including Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock. He had one notable success in Hollywood: writing the original screenplay for the praised "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957), starring Burt Lancaster as lawman Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as gambler Doc Holliday.
His popular success as a novelist is more certain. Starting with his first book, "Battle Cry" (1953), about a Marine Corps unit during World War II, Mr. Uris drew in tens of millions of readers with sweeping storylines and prose that skipped along at a furious pace. But like many authors of page-turning prose, he sustained a lifetime of mixed reception from literary critics who found his works cliched and his characters stereotypes.
Richard A. Kallan and Sharon D. Downey wrote in the publication Communications Monographs that "Uris remains a reader's writer and a critic's nightmare."
A raffish and confrontational man, he had a pungent and defensive retort to reviewers who thought him lacking as a stylist and thinker.
"I'm no Solzhenitsyn," he told The Washington Post in 1978, referring to the Nobel Prize- winning Russian dissident writer. "I don't have his kind of message. I know they never mention me with the American sweethearts. But I'll rest on my titles. I've written two novels -- 'Exodus' and 'Trinity' -- that have had a world impact. Things could be worse."
Besides "Trinity" (1976) and "Mila 18" (1961), about the Jewish ghetto uprising in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, his books included "Armageddon" (1964), a novel set during the Berlin airlift of 1948; "Topaz" (1967), a story about Russian spies operating in the French government; and "The Haj" (1984), a Palestinian Arab perspective of the founding of Israel.
Leon Marcus Uris was born to impoverished parents of Russian-Polish heritage. His mother was a first-generation American, and his father, a storekeeper, had emigrated from Poland.
He once said of his father: "I think his personality was formed by the harsh realities of being a Jew in Czarist Russia. He was basically a failure. He went from failure to failure. I think failure formed his character, made him bitter.
"I think I can say without hesitation that from earliest memory I was determined not to be a failure."
He wrote an opera at age 7 to honor his dead dog. He disliked formal schooling, and he liked to say that one of his teachers failed him three times in English, but "fortunately, English and writing have little to do with each other."
After dropping out of high school, he served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II. He was a radio operator at Guadalcanal and Tarawa but contracted malaria and returned to the United States.
He was determined to use his military experience to establish himself as a fiction writer but met with rejection a dozen times before G.P. Putnam's Sons accepted "Battle Cry," a sympathetic look at U.S. soldiers as they endure boot camp and battle. Van Heflin, Aldo Ray and Tab Hunter were in the 1955 film version, for which Mr. Uris wrote the script.
While in Hollywood, he finished "The Angry Hills" (1955), a spy novel based on his uncle's experiences fighting with a Jewish brigade of the British army during World War II. The book marked the author's first foray into novelizing Jewish history.
He spent the next several years researching his masterwork, "Exodus." He also accompanied the Israeli army during the 1956 Sinai campaign against Egypt.
The book resulted in a much-publicized libel lawsuit brought by Auschwitz physician Wladislaw Dering, whom the author described as a war criminal. When a London court ruled against Mr. Uris in 1964, the author viewed the case as a victory because he was ordered to pay only a half-penny and court costs.
To better Dering, he wrote "QBVII" (1970), a fictional courtroom drama based on the libel case. It was a bestseller.
Mr. Uris's legal problems continued. He was sued for breach of contract by Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, a former French diplomat and intelligence official who claimed to have helped Uris write "Topaz" based on his life's story. In 1972, de Vosjoli was awarded $352,000 for royalties from the book and Hitchcock's film version.
Mr. Uris's final book, "O'Hara's Choice," is scheduled to be published this year.
To aspiring authors, he offered simple advice: "Apply the seat of one's pants to the seat of the chair and write. There is no other way."
His first and third marriages, to Betty Beck Uris and photographer Jill Peabody Uris, ended in divorce. The death in 1969 of his second wife, Margery Edwards Uris, was ruled a suicide.
Survivors include three children from his first marriage; two children from his third marriage; and two grandchildren.