Jeff Goodell was born and raised in Silicon Valley, where his family had lived for four generations. He has worked as a blackjack dealer, a glazier, a janitor, a bartender at a topless club, an editor at a Russian literary journal, and a technical writer at Apple. He has a BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University.
He began his career as a journalist covering crime and politics in New York City for 7 Days, a weekly magazine that won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 1990. Since 1996 he has been a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone, where he has written about a wide variety of subjects, from hookers and politicians to climate scientists and internet billionaires. "Down and Out in Silicon Valley," a Rolling Stone story chronicling life in homeless shelters in the Valley, was chosen as one of the best business stories of the year by the editors of BusinessWeek. He has also written for lots of other publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Wired.
His first book, The Cyberthief and the Samurai (Dell, 1996), grew out of a Rolling Stone article and told the story of the hunt for notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. His next book, Sunnyvale (Villard, 2000), a memoir about growing up in Silicon Valley, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. In 2001, he wrote a story about the comeback of the U.S. coal industry for The New York Times Magazine. That article made him curious to understand more about what goes on behind the light switch and lead, indirectly, to his third book, Our Story (Hyperion, 2002), an account of nine miners trapped in a Pennsylvania coal mine for 77 hours, which was a national bestseller.
He spent the next three years reporting and writing Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). He spent a week in an underground mine in Pennsylvania, hiked through West Virginia with anti-mountaintop removal activists, rode a coal train through the Black Hills of South Dakota, toured coal plants in China, and spent a month in the North Atlantic with climate scientists aboard the R/V Knorr, a research vessel operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. To research his latest book, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate, he spent several years with some of the world's top climate modelers, as well as Cold War physicists, philosophers, politicians, and crackpot entrepreneurs, all of whom are involved with the development of new technologies that might someday be used to manipulate the earth's climate to reduce the risks associated with global warming. How to Cool the Planet won the 2011 Grantham Prize Award of Special Merit.
As a commentator on energy and environmental issues, he has appeared on NPR, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, ABC, NBC, PBS, Fox News and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
This biography was last updated on 01/15/2014.
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A Conversation with Jeff Goodell about Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind Americas Energy Future
Why did you decide to write a book about coal?
In the spring of 2001, the New York Times Magazine sent me down to West Virginia to write about the comeback of the coal industry. Coal had played an important role in the election of George W. Bush in 2000 West Virginia, an important coal state which hadnt voted Republican in many years, was widely credited with giving Bush his margin of victory and it was clear that coal would play an increasingly important role in Americas energy future. But visiting West Virginia was an eye-opening experience for me, in part because, like many Americans, Id naively assumed that coal had gone out with top hats and corsets. I was astonished to learn that the United States burns more than a billion tons of coal a year, mostly to generate electricity. More than half our electric power comes from coal-fired power plants. In West Virginia, I got a close look at the high cost of our dependence on coal not just the hundreds of square miles of mountains that have been decapitated by strip mines in the southern part of the state, but ...
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