John Jakes, whose generational sagas set during the American Revolution and the Civil War sold millions of copies and earned him the title of "godfather of historical fiction," died March 11 at a hospice facility near his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 90.
His literary agent, Frank R. Curtis, confirmed his client's death recently but did not cite a specific cause.
Jakes published more than 80 books in various genres, including science fiction and fantasy, but his deeply researched historical novels -- more than a dozen were New York Times bestsellers -- were the works that brought him commercial success, extraordinary wealth, and backhanded compliments from critics.
"John Jakes doesn't give us memorable passages," the Christian Science Monitor said in a 1982 review of the author's "North and South" trilogy on the Civil War. "But he does give us an engrossing tale that keeps us reading." A Chicago Tribune book critic once described his historical descriptions as "solid and memorable" but said "there is no poetry, no subtlety in Jakes's writing."
Jakes acknowledged his goals were not literary. Rather, he sought to entertain and educate readers who might buy his novels at Kmart without knowing anything about the era of American history he was dramatizing.
Jakes was struggling to make a living as a writer in the early 1970s when he published "The Bastard," the first installment of an eight-volume saga about seven generations of the fictional Kent family. The series, known as the Kent Family Chronicles, begins during the American Revolution and winds through other major historical events including the War of 1812 and Texas's fight for sovereignty.
He ultimately sold more than 55 million copies of Kent books. There was a TV miniseries. And readers demanded more.
Jakes then turned to the Civil War, writing a trilogy focused on two families -- the Mains, who owned enslaved people, and the Hazards, who were Pennsylvania industrialists. It too become a TV miniseries. Other historical novels quickly followed, including "The Crown Family Saga," a two-volume tale about a German immigrant family trying to make it in 20th-century America.
John William Jakes was born on March 31, 1932, in Chicago. His father drove a truck and later became an executive for the Railway Express Agency. His mother was a teacher. John didn't excel at sports, and he was "always the last one to be chosen for the baseball team," he told The Post. "That hurt."