June 24, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Leon Uris, who turned 20th-century conflicts into sweeping historical epic novels like the best-seller ”Exodus,” died Saturday at his home on New York’s Shelter Island, the Associated Press reports. He was 78 and died of natural causes, his wife told AP.

Uris, who served as a Marine in World War II and later worked as a war correspondent, published his first novel, ”Battle Cry,” in 1953. A tale of the Marines, it was also his first to be adapted into a film. Uris was best known for 1958’s ”Exodus,” a novel that traced the Zionist movement and the founding of Israel, which was made into a popular 1960 movie starring Paul Newman. Uris clashed in court with director Otto Preminger over the film, as he did nine years later with Alfred Hitchcock over the director’s adaptation of his Cold War spy thriller ”Topaz.” Another legal battle stemming from ”Exodus” inspired Uris’ novel ”QB VII,” which became a 1974 mini-series starring Anthony Hopkins.

Several of Uris’ novels, including ”Exodus,” ”QB VII,” ”Mila 18” (about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during World War II) and ”Mitla Pass” (about his own family history) were about the Holocaust and other events in recent Jewish history. Uris also had a best-seller, however, with 1976’s ”Trinity,” a saga of Irish revolutionary politics leading to the Easter Rising of 1916. His last novel, called ”O’Hara’s Choice,” is scheduled for publication this October.

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