Monday, July 09, 2012

Philip Fradkin RIP

I learned today that Philip Fradkin passed away. I knew he was ill because I stood in for him at a recent awards conference. (Two of his UC Press books were nominated.) That was less than a month ago, so I wasn't quite ready for this news.

I met Philip through the California Studies dinners, which used to be held at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. That was right around the time his biography of Wallace Stegner appeared. I reviewed it favorably for the Los Angeles Times, and he went on to write two more books, both for UC Press in 2011: Everett Reuss and The Left Coast: California on the Edge, which he co-authored with his son Alex. His Wikipedia page lists 11 other books, all of them set in the west and Alaska. Three of them concerned earthquakes, including The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself (UC Press, 2005), which I assigned for my class at San Francisco State University. It helped us understand, among other things, how the 1906 disaster was connected to the Progressive Era.

Philip lived in Inverness, a tiny burg near Point Reyes Station in Marin County. He said he chose it because it changed less than any other place he knew. Part of the appeal, I'm sure, was the fabulous Tomales Bay landscape; having served as an environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times and as western editor of Audubon magazine, he was especially attuned to its charms.

There's more information about Philip and his impressive body of work at his website, and obits have run in the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times.

Few have written more--and more compellingly--about the modern west, its ecology, its natural catastrophes, and the imperfect ways we've prepared for and responded to them. And his biographies of Stegner and Reuss, a precursor to Christopher McCandless of Into the Wild, extended his reach to those who explored and wrote about the west as well.

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