Frederic Morton dies at 90; U.S. writer known for books on Austria

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U.S. writer Frederic Morton, who became internationally recognized in part through books on the Austrian homeland that he was forced to flee because of the Holocaust, has died, his Austrian publishers said Monday. He was 90.

Morton died in his Vienna hotel room overnight on the eve of a public reading of some of his works in the Austrian capital, his publishers said. That event will instead be turned into a memorial for the Vienna-born author.

Morton wrote 12 books, including “The Rothschilds” and “A Nervous Splendor,” both of them National Book Award finalists. “The Rothschilds” was made into a Tony Award-winning musical, while “A Nervous Splendor,” chronicling 1888 to 1889 in Vienna, focused on the major Austrian personalities and events of that year — among them the birth of Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power led to Morton’s self-exile 40 years later.


Decades later, Morton would describe his uprooting as the common theme running through all of his works, and not only those dealing with Austria.

“Everything I write has something to do with the loss of my homeland, directly or indirectly,” he said.

Born Fritz Mandelbaum on Oct. 5, 1924, Morton grew up as the son of a well-to-do Jewish family of industrialists who fled first to London a year after Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria and then to New York.

Morton’s interest in writing grew while studying literature at Columbia University and attending classes at the New School for Social Research. He began writing short stories and publishing in magazines in 1947, making his breakthrough with his biography of the Rothschilds in 1962.

Morton began visiting the city of his birth even before Austria slowly began coming to terms with its Nazi past in the 1980s. Among other distinctions, he was awarded Vienna’s Golden Medal of Honor in 1986 and the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art in 2003.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.

Jahn writes for the Associated Press.