One of my favorite book authors, Philip Fradkin, has died at age 77. He was a great writer about California and the American west, and his more recent books included biographies of writer Wallace Stegner and the legendary young wilderness-lover Everett Reuss, but I particularly fancied his "earthquake trilogy," all three of which I have reviewed on this site.
Magnitude 8, published in 1998, was the first book to my knowledge in which an author personally visited every accessible place on the San Andreas fault. Fradkin explored the fault's geology, its behavior and most memorably its relationship to the California character.
Wildest Alaska, published in 2001, dealt in depth with Lituya Bay, the haunted, disaster-prone inlet on the southeastern Alaska coast that I described as "the most dangerous place in the world that is not Antarctica or an erupting volcano." Lituya Bay's aura informed the spiritual life of its sometime inhabitants, the Tlingit tribes, and their ghosts are persistent characters in the book.
The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906, published in 2005, delved into the seamy, essential political history and aftermath of the great San Francisco earthquake, setting the tone with its first paragraph: "The seeds of trauma are scattered within individuals, and collectively within societies. All that is needed for them to sprout is a shake of our established worlds, and then, like black bulbs, they bloom again and again." The stories and lessons from 1906 were echoed and ratified in New Orleans a century later with Hurricane Katrina, making this history compellingly relevant today.
Last year, Fradkin participated in a public group interview on the Well (my online home base) about his last book, Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death and Amazing Afterlife. He told us he was through writing books and would go into photography: "At the age of seventy-six, I am involved in things that are more present and intuitive, at least for me, like being in a place and not having to take notes and employing a digital camera quickly, which helps me be present in that place." That was just eight months ago.