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Philip Fradkin, chronicler of the West was 77

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The pioneering environmental journalist whose fascination with the West led him to become one of the region’s most astute chroniclers of its history and environment has died at his home in Point Reyes Station. His son, Alex, said the author and one-time Los Angeles Times reporter died Saturday after a struggle with cancer.

Fradkin’s range of interests included the great San Francisco earthquake, nuclear test fallout in Nevada and the survival of the Colorado River, and was expressed in 13 books. Among them: “A River No More: The Colorado River and the West (1981); “The Seven States of California: A Natural and Human History” (1995), and “Wallace Stegner and the American West” (2008).

His 2005 book, “The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906,” was published as the centennial anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake neared, and won widespread praise. The New Yorker said that it “starts out as an environmental history but evolves into a parable about human response to cataclysm.” Fradkin helped UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library assemble an archive of thousands of images and documents about the quake.

From his obituary in the LA Times:

Prof. Forrest G. Robinson, a UC Santa Cruz expert on the literature of the West, described Fradkin as a literary descendant of 19th century explorer John Wesley Powell and Pulitzer Prize-winner Stegner, both of whom wrote insightfully about the West's natural riches and resource problems, including those stemming from the ravaging of the Colorado River.

"Fradkin's career was an oblique tribute to Stegner's influence and through Stegner to Powell," said Robinson, who also called Fradkin's book on Stegner "easily the best factual record we have of Stegner's life."

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