About

Quick Story: I'm a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author living in Southern California. My  latest books are Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash, and A Man and His Mountain: The Everyman Who Created Kendall-Jackson and Became America's Greatest Wine Entrepreneur.

My other books include Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green RevolutionNo Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year In the Life of Juvenile CourtMississippi Mud, and Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul.

Backstory: When I was six I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been at it ever since. I started my writing career in newspapers, and I think I probably would have paid them, instead of the other way around, for the thrill of seeing my byline in print. As a newspaper reporter, I gravitated toward stories that allowed me to dig behind the scenes and beneath the surface, looking for questions others hadn't asked or imagined.  I loved that work.

When I left newspapers to write nonfiction books, I suddenly had weeks or months, rather than hours or days, to immerse myself in the inner workings of the places, characters and events I seek to understand and write about. I had found the greatest job I can imagine.
In my books, I try to take readers inside worlds most don’t get to visit or see close up on their own. My first stories were about crime — real-life murder mysteries— and I still enjoy reading and writing true crime. But I've pursued broader and more varied narratives in my more recent books. I’ve written about the nation’s crumbling juvenile justice system, the California high school that went from worst to best in the state, the harrowing but surprisingly humane world of a neonatal intensive care unit, the front lines of a modern-day Scopes Monkey Trial, a Gulf Coast murder mystery solved by the victims’ own daughter.

Lately – in Garbology, Force of Nature, and Eco Barons – I’ve focused on narratives about the environment, sustainability and the critical issue of waste embedded in our economy and culture. I believe the environment to be one of the most important stories of our age – for ourselves, and for our children.

Speaking: To arrange a speaking engagement, please contact the Penguin Speaker's Bureau.

I enjoy talking about my work, and I'm honored to that colleges and cities have adopted my books for community reads and classroom use. Garbology has been chosen as a First Year Experience read at universities across the nation, including California State University Northridge, the University of Central Florida, Washington State University, the University of New Mexico, Columbus State University (Georgia), and Marymount California University. I've also enjoyed city-wide reading programs with the residents of Portland, Oregon, and Palos Verdes, California.

I have been invited to address a wide range of groups and organizations: the Commonwealth Club, the National Education Summit, the National Steinbeck Center, the National Association of District Attorneys, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the National Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Dole Center for Politics, the National High School Journalism Conference, the National College Newspaper Convention, the National Association of Teachers of English, the California Department of Corrections, the California Appellate Project, the Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Poynter Institute. I was called to testify about my reporting on juvenile court before the U.S. Senate and a joint session of the California Senate and Assembly. I've had the pleasure of delivering a commencement address at Hampshire College in Amherst, my alma mater, and have enjoyed speaking at venues throughout California as a contributing writer to My California, an anthology from which all proceeds were donated to the California Arts Council to support arts and writing programs for the state’s school children.

Teaching: I served as a Regents Lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, taught at Chapman University, and taught writing workshops at the University of Oregon graduate program in literary nonfiction.

Other Work: I've written for numerous publications, including Los Angeles Magazine, Sierra Magazine, Readers Digest, California Lawyer, the Oxford American, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. I have taught writing and journalism at the University of California, Irvine, Chapman University, and the University of Oregon.

Honors: I received a Pulitzer Prize for my newspaper coverage of the military, a PEN Center USA award for No Matter How Loud I Shout, a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for “The Forgotten,” my LA Magazine account of life inside Los Angeles’s nightmarish home for neglected children, and a Silver Gavel honor for Monkey Girl.

Born: Philadelphia.

Education: Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass.

Home: Southern California

Favorite authors: John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Harper Lee, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, Tracy Kidder.

Reads that wowed me (a sampling): Dispatches, by Michael Herr; Tapping the Source, by Kem Nunn; The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy; Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Dune, by Frank Herbert;  Encounters with the Archdruid, by John McPhee; Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser; Common Wealth, by Jeffrey D. Sachs; Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang

My books, the complete list:
  • A Man and His Mountain
  • Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash
  • Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution
  • Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers & Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet
  • Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice & the Dixie Mafia
  • Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion & the Battle for America’s Soul
  • Over Here: How the GI Bill Transformed the American Dream
  • School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School
  • Baby ER: The Heroic Doctors and Nurses Who Perform Medicine’s Tiniest Miracles
  • Mean Justice: A Town’s Terror, a Prosecutor’s Power, a Betrayal of Innocence
  • No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
  • Murderer With a Badge: The Secret Life of a Rogue Cop
  • Buried Secrets: A True Story of Serial Murder, Black Magic and Drug-Running on the U.S. Border