Wallace Stegner at age 68 in 1977

Previous Books

Wallace Stegner and the American West

• “Respectful of his subject but never worshipful, Fradkin has given us our first full critical portrait of the man and his protean career.” Hampton Sides, Men’s Vogue

• “Author of many books on the American West, western editor of Audubon magazine and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Philip L. Fradkin has a resume that seems to suit him perfectly to write the life of that most Western of literary figures, Wallace Stegner. And after reading ‘Wallace Stegner and the American West,’ it is clear that this is an ideal match between biographer and subject.” Front page, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review (A “Lit Picks” choice of Book Review editors)

• “As Fradkin notes in this astute biography, it was a miracle that he didn’t write pulp westerns. Instead, Stegner took as his subject the failure of his father’s homestead, built on denial of the most fundamental Western reality: drought.” The New Yorker

• “Fradkin’s dynamic and probing portrait of Stegner brilliantly combines literary and environmental history, and provides a fresh and telling perspective on the rampant development of the arid West, and Stegner's prophetic warnings of the complex consequences.” Booklist

• “Stegner disliked the epithet ‘dean of Western writers,’ but many authors, readers and environmentalists are grateful he earned it. Fradkin’s clear-eyed biography is another occasion for their gratitude.” Los Angeles Times Book Review

• “That Fradkin judges Stegner fairly throughout pleases, but the book's most welcome moments come when he excerpts Stegner's sharp descriptions of the West.” Philadelphia Inquirer

• “Overall, this is an engaging, holistic, recounting of a rich, rough-and-tumble literary life, anchored in the rugged Western terrain, a fast-vanishing wilderness that Stegner would say we must preserve for our very sanitary, a landscape crucial to our human ‘geography of hope.’”BookPage

• “Fradkin brings a novelist’s eye to this well-told life story.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer

• “It’s easy to fall into the trap of hagiography when writing about a high achiever of exemplary character. Reality is always more complicated and interesting, however, and Philip L. Fradkin is able to push past the plaudits in Wallace Stegner and the American West and get closer to the main.” The Oregonian

• “Fradkin's book provides the comprehensive story of Stegner's achievements with inclusiveness and grace.” Rocky Mountain News

• “Because Stegner, whatever else, was blessed with the gift for beautiful writing, it is only fair that his biography be equally well-written. With this classy, well-balanced book, Fradkin has outdone himself, presenting Stegner as the eminent scholar and writer he was, but also as a flawed human being who made mistakes.” Deseret News

A River No More: The Colorado River and the West

"What Mr. Fradkin's book does is look illusion in the eye until it blinks. A River No More makes a statement of the utmost importance and gravity." Wallace Stegner, The New Republic

A River No More is the most comprehensive book we have had or are ever likely to have on the Colorado River—a portrait with a message. We had better listen to it.” T.H Watkins, San Francisco Chronicle Review

"Massively researched and qite well written, it may change the way you look at rivers."Christian Science Monitor

"Assimilating scores of colorful tributary anecdotes, yet maintaining a clear forward thrust, the book itself takes on the form of a variegated, wonderful river." Washington Post Book World

The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself
(Volume III in the Earthquake Trilogy)

“Indeed, for all its horrific incidents, The Great Earthquake proves an inspiring, even endearing book, full of colorful anecdotes and charming details, encyclopedic in scope and powerfully evocative of San Francisco in its golden age. The panorama Fradkin offers the reader is so sweeping and so vivid that one might be tempted to call his book cinematic, were it not for the fact that all those disaster movies seem so bland by comparison.” Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times Book Review>

"None of the standard histories of the 1906 disaster are likely to survive the exemplary jolt of Philip Fradkin's remarkable new research." Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear

"Fradkin's account starts out as an environmental history but evolves into a parable about human response to cataclysm." The New Yorker

"And yet New Orleans's ongoing travails remind readers that to understand disaster we must look beyond spectacle, no matter how dramatic or gruesome, and focus our gaze instead on politics. Fradkin, to his credit, understands this. . . . So it is that Fradkin's work is the most illuminating in these seasons of catastrophe. His book demonstrates that the earthquake and fires created winners and losers, that the tragedy was manipulated for political gain——and, more broadly, that disasters, so often mislabeled 'natural,' are really a horrible outgrowth of the most human concerns: politics." The Nation

"The rich narrative that flows from Fradkin's research is essentially a story of the past, but the manipulation and abuse of power——the book's principal theme——also provides a caution for the future." Sacramento Bee

"It is a blockbuster. . . . Fradkin came up with—nearly 100 years after the event—the true story of how San Franciscans responded to the challenges of April 1906." Kevin Starr, author and former California State Librarian, San Francisco Examiner

After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
Although I don't list this book as one I wrote, I had a significant role in its publication and did contribute an essay. While working on my 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire book and at the same time as a consultant to the Bancroft Library at the University of California selecting the texts and images for their website on the same subject, I determined a photo book was necessary, one that made the past relevant to the present. Mark Klett was the only photographer whose work I knew that could span that length of time. I invited Mark to San Francisco and we met with editors at the University of California Press and curators at the Legion of Honor. Both Mark and I knew Rebecca Solnit, and she was brought on board. With Mark taking the lead, it was a wonderful partnership. The UC Press catalogue description follows:

How exactly has San Francisco's urban landscape changed in the hundred years since the earthquake and cataclysmic firestorms that destroyed three-quarters of the city in 1906? For this provocative rephotography project, bringing past and present into dynamic juxtaposition, renowned photographer Mark Klett has gone to the same locations pictured in forty-five compelling historic photographs taken in the days following the 1906 earthquake and fires and precisely duplicated each photograph's vantage point. The result is an elegant and powerful comparison that challenges our preconceptions about time, history, and culture. "I think the pictures ask us to become aware of the extraordinary qualities of our own distinct moment in time. But it is a realization that a particular future is not guaranteed by the flow of time in any given direction." So says Mark Klett discussing this multilayered project in an illuminating interview included in this lavishly produced volume, which accompanies an exhibition at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

"After the Ruins" features a vivid essay by noted environmental historian Philip Fradkin on the events surrounding and following the 1906 earthquake, which he describes as "the equivalent of an intensive, three-day bombing raid, complete with many tons of dynamite that acted as incendiary devices." A lyrical essay by acclaimed writer Rebecca Solnit considers the meaning of ruins, resurrection, and the evolving geography and history of San Francisco.

Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy

"In a searing indictment of official indifference both to human life and basic principles, Philip Fradkin has written a meticulously documented report about how this outrage was allowed to happen. Fallout provides important lessons that we ignore at our peril." Washington Post Book World, (front page review)

“Philip Fradkin's carefully researched book is a welcome addition to the growing body of work describing an atmospheric testing program so aggressive that it amounted to nothing less than an undeclared domestic nuclear war.” The New York Times Book Review

"Dispassionate in its strict adherence to testimony and evidence, compelling, lucid and a vital contribution to American history, Fradkin's book with its documentation is unassailable."
David Perlman, science editor, San Francisco Chronicle Review

"An expose that should create a firestorm of controversy and that deserves a wide audience." Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

The Seven States of California: A Natural and Human History
"Part Baedeker, part historical tract and part personal witness, a superb, warts-and-all introduction to the nation's most populous, polyglot and physically varied state." San Francisco Chronicle Review, front page

"Great reading. While many of us bumble along in the buggles of our local expresso cart and occasional car stereo theft, Fradkin experiences our worst public events as the very stuff of life. This lends his writing a stirring urgency." Daniel Duane, Los Angeles Times

"Fascinating, intimate, and readable in the extreme." Kirkus Reviews

Wildest Alaska: Journeys of Great Peril in Lituya Bay (Volume II in the Earthquake Trilogy)

"No other book about Alaska so thoroughly documents this strange, powerful corner of the Great Land and the haunted quality permeating many of its most beautiful landscapes." Booklist

"Fradkin tells the story with great charm, creating an image of a place that mixes curses with blessings." London Sunday Times

“Reader beware: Fradkin's history of sinisterly beautiful Lituya Bay is to Alaska travelogues as Kubrick's ‘The Shining’ is to hotel commercials. After finishing this unnerving tale of Tlingit monsters, kilometer-high waves, mystery bears and inexplicable murders, I looked under my bed to make sure the Land Otter Man wasn't lurking there. A gothic tour de force by America's finest environmental journalist.” Mike Davis, author of the Ecology of Fear

Magnitude 8: Earthquakes and Life Along the San Andreas Fault (Volume I in the Earthquake Trilogy)
"The most thoroughly researched volume available for a lay audience about the San Andreas Fault." San Jose Mercury News

"Fradkin captures the awesome power and monstrous consequences of earthquakes in this elegant, at times breathtaking, environmental history of the dangers of place." Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating and at times riveting yarn about one of the State's—and the Earth's—most powerful and mysterious forces." San Francisco Chronicle Review

Sagebrush Country: Land and the American West

"A compelling portrait of a spare and lovely land with limited resources that can in no way accomodate the demands being placed on it." Seattle Times

"He ties the history of Sagebrush Country together with prodigious research and on-the-scene narrative to frame the contemporary situation in the rounded light of perspective. In the land of many uses and abuses, his work delivers understanding over blame. That's virgin territory for the West." Bloomsbury Review

"Fradkin is not a wild-eyed environmentalist, nor is he anti-development. His is a reasoned approach in a forum that allows very little reason to intrude on emotional issues." Denver Post

Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West

"The deeply familiar image of a stagecoach and a team of six horses clattering over a raw landscape is both a shimmering icon of Western myth and legend and the carefully tended trademark of a bank. For precisely that reason, 'Stageocach' by Philip L. Fradkin can be approached as both a colorful work of frontier history and a cool-headed corporate biography." Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A swashbuckling account of Wells Fargo's early mail and express delivery service." Publisher's Weekly

"A great story of brave spirits in the American West, and of entrepreneurial spirit as well." Wall Street Journal

"This lively history of the express company that became synonymous with communication on the American frontier is as much a story of corporate machinations back East as it is of adventure in the West." London Financial Times

Wanderings of an Environmental Journalist: In Alaska and the American West
(Note: this book is no longer in print. The following reviews and comments make me wonder why.)

• “Philip Fradkin not only documents ‘envirohistory,’ he sometimes predicts the future. Perhaps this Cassandra should be listened to more carefully from now on. . . . 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 books that accompany Ken Burns documentaries about the West and national parks..

• “The pieces offer a sobering, articulate view of specific environmental concerns in the West, most of which——as shown by an updating epilogue——have not improved in the interim. . . . At times, the prescience of Fradkin’s observations is stunning.” Kirkus Reviews.

• “Philip Fradkin’s essays form a scintillating mosaic of some of the remotest, most ravaged and most wondrous corners of North America. . . . Most important of all, they remain, almost without exception, remarkably relevant. I marveled at the prescience of Fradkin’s coverage of issues.” Los Angeles Times Book Review.

• “Fradkin has served up a journalistic feast that is both enjoyable and relevant, touching on issues as important today as they were two decades ago.” San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.

• “Philip Fradkin is much more than a first-rate journalist and writer. 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. Wanderings of an Environmental Journalist celebrates Mr. Fradkin’s literary career as one of this country’s most astute critics and observers.” Terry Tempest Williams, author of "Refuge."

• “Genuinely a foundation for the New Western History, 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."

• “Fradkin’s engaging style and insights into ongoing issues——the ‘alienation’ of Native Americans from their lands, overcrowding in the West, the constant threat of fire in California——make this a rewarding collection for concerned readers.” Publishers Weekly.

• “When you’re right, you’re right, and when Philip Fradkin worked for the Los Angeles Times as that paper’s first environmental reporter from 1970-1975, and for Audubon from 1976-1981 as its first western editor, he often batted 1,000.” High Country News.

• “Because Fradkin focused on events of long-range significance, his articles retain their original interest. Good nature writers survive on their strengths as historians or scientists as much as with their fine writing craft.” Alaska magazine.

California, the Golden Coast

(Note: this book is no longer in print, and the reviews were lost in a house fire. Portions of the book appear in "Wanderings of an Environmental Journalist" and "The Left Coast.")

Selected Works from Books Published Prior to 2011

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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