Photo by Alex Fradkin

Biography

A WRITING LIFE

The environmental historian Philip L. Fradkin is the author of eleven books on the interior West, California, and Alaska. Since his first professional writing job in 1960, Fradkin has worked at all levels of the craft of nonfiction, shared a Pulitzer Prize while on the Los Angeles Times, garnered other awards, taught at prestigious universities and colleges, and for more than thirty years has lived alongside the San Andreas Fault north of San Francisco. No living American writer has written about the American West for as long or as extensively in all types of nonfiction formats as Fradkin.

Raised in Montclair, N.J., Fradkin graduated from Williams College in 1957. Following a two-year stint in the Army, he began his writing career on a small weekly newspaper near San Francisco in 1960. After working on two small dailies in central and northern California, he moved on to the Los Angeles Times in 1964. Fradkin shared a Pulitzer Prize awarded to the metropolican staff of the Times for coverage of the Watts racial conflict in 1965. He was present at the assasination of Robert Kennedy and other traumatic events during the latter half of the decade. After covering the Vietnam War, he became the newspaper's first environmental writer in 1971.

Butting up against the limits of daily journalism, Fradkin left the Times and went to work in state government in 1975. As assistant secretary of the California Resources Agency in the administration of Governor Jerry Brown, Fradkin handled coastal legislation, energy developments, and public affairs for the state's principal environmental agency. From 1976 to 1981 he was the first western editor of Audubon magazine. Since then he has written eleven books; taught writing and western history courses at the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and Williams College; and has been a consultant to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

In additon to journalism, governmental service, teaching, and writing books, Fradkin has experience in all facets of the craft of nonfiction, including photography, bookselling, book publishing, web page consulting, and working as a librarian. For the nearly fifty years he has lived in the West, he has actively explored mountains, deserts, rivers, and coastlines from the north coast of Alaska to Tierra del Fuego as a hiker, backpacker, river runner, small boat sailor, and kayaker.

The hardcover editions of Fradkin's books in order of their publication dates are: California, the Golden Coast, Viking, 1973; A River No More: The Colorado River and the West, Knopf, 1981; Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy, University of Arizona Press, 1989; Sagebrush Country: Land and the American West, Knopf, 1989; Wanderings of An Environmental Journalist: In Alaska and the American West, University of New Mexico Press, 1993; The Seven States of California: A Natural and Human History, Henry Holt, 1995; Magnitude 8: Earthquakes and Life Along the San Andreas Fault, Holt, 1998; Wildest Alaska: Journeys of Great Peril in Lituya Bay, University of California Press, 2001; Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West, Simon & Schuster, 2002; The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself, UC Press, 2005; and Wallace Stegner and the American West, Knopf, 2008. Along with contributing an essay, Fradkin was responsible for the concept of a book and major museum exhibit of Mark Klett's San Francisco earthquake and fire photographs titled After the Ruins: 1906 and 2006, University of California Press and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2006.

Fallout and The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906 were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes. The 1906 book was on the best books lists of the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle and received the Californiana award of the Commonwealth Club of California. Fradkin was named a distinguished alumnus of Montclair Kimberley Academy in Montclair, N.J. and received a media award for his environmental journalism at the Times from the Sierra Club.

All of Fradkin's books, except Golden Coast and Wanderings, are currently available in quality paperback editions and can be ordered through standard commercial outlets. He will sign books that are mailed to him with a stamped, self-addressed, return envelope. The author can be contacted via email at philfrad@​earthlink.net or by letter at P.O. Box 817, Pt. Reyes Station, CA 94956. Telephone calls are not appreciated.

Comments on Fradkin's body of work:

"Philip Fradkin's work is full of foresight, good sense, and an understanding of the ties between social and environmental dilemmas. Taking Fradkin's writing seriously is an important step in figuring out the American West today." Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest, professor of history, University of Colorado.

"He is Trickster exposing the lies and assumptions of our culture with a fierce intellect, while at the same time creating a tenderness of heart toward all that is beautiful and just. His language is hard-edged, authentic, and clear. [Fradkin is] one of this country's most astute critics and observers." Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge and An Unspoken Hunger.

"I took from A River No More the conviction that a writer, in order to understand a river, a city, and a landscape, has to see every inch of it in all weathers and moods, has to talk to everyone he or she meets along the way, and has to read everything that's ever been written about it. Certainly Philip Fradkin did so in the case of the Colorado River, just as he has done in his books about the natural history of California, the Alaskan wilderness, and government deceit, along with many other topics that have engaged him over the last four decades . . . . The work that he has produced as an environmental journalist and historian remains among the very best of its kind." Gregory McNamee, contributing editor, The Bloomsbury Review.

“Philip Fradkin is simply one of the best journalists writing in America. He tells taut, incisive stories about vivid, embattled places and about people who so often liquidate what they claim to love.” Donald Worster, biographer of John Wesley Powell and John Muir, winner of the Bancroft Prize, and Hall Distinguished Professor of History, University of Kansas.

“What the West needs more of is Philip Fradkin’s style of writing: Grounded in fact and history, imbued with both human understanding and a calling to a cause, and willingness to stand back and let a good story tell itself, vividly and enduringly.” Dayton Duncan, author of The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Backstories of Earlier Works

Nonfiction
The definitive life of the West's outstanding writer, teacher of writers, and conservationist.
The use and abuse of the West's lifeblood, water.
Radioactive fallout from the Nevada Test Site caused innocent people to die.
How landscape has determined the history and destiny of California
Giant waves, five hundred feet higher than the Empire State Building, sweep a remote Alaska Bay.

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