By Sam Hall Kaplan

“Eureka,” ancient Greek for “I have found it,” is perhaps best known as the motto of the state of California, emblazoned as it is on the fluttering state flag. Given the context in which it is used, I immodestly echo it here to lend emphasis to my enthusiasm for the publication of “The California Field Atlas.”

“Eureka,” I have found a uniquely designed and different book explaining, displaying and celebrating the state’s distinct geography and ecology. It is an engaging trip along the state’s sandy beaches, up fresh water rivers, across verdant valleys and dry deserts, and into the deep forests and towering mountains beyond.

Published by the independent, non-profit Heyday Books of Berkeley, California, it is not the usual dry atlas of maps and facts, though for me as a right-brained blessed reader such books are always welcomed. Words obviously I love, but I also find maps fascinating and illustrations intriguing., and am easily diverted by them.

The subsequently engrossing field atlas indeed has a wealth of these visuals, but much more, thanks to an obviously obsessed writer, Obi Kaufmann. He admits that despite having worked on the book his whole life, he still feeling like a novice, “an infatuated child, lost and humble beggar, “ asking for the natural wisdom rising out of the state’s unique geography.

Kaufmann is indeed very much a romantic, and writes as if he is far, far from civilization, lying on his back on a cold winter’s night on a mountaintop, looking up at a clear, glittering sky and making a wish on the brightest star he sees.

“I want to hold the whole of California in my hand, like a diamond or spinning top; I want to coax this single piece of the universe into opening up its secrets.” He adds that by writing this book, “I seek to participate in the wild reimagining of this place, past the scars inflicted over the last 200 years, to reveal a story about what has always been here and what will remain long after our human residency here is through.” Or I might add maybe until the last of many editions of the atlas is placed on remainder.

As a blurb on the sturdy back cover of the solidly constructed book, good for back pockets and backpacks, states, ”This book is not full of roads maps, and it won’t help you if you are lost in the woods. It comes with a different set of guarantees and assurances, on that it plainly lays out the entirety of the state as a single, integrative being composed of living patterns and ancient processes.”

That is as bold as the magnificent Mount Whitney (14,494 feet) seen on a clear day from the enveloping Sequoia National Park. You can almost taste the clean air and smell the foxtail pines.

Kaufmann unabashedly labels the book a love story, to be sure a very different love story, and presents himself as a poet and a painter, whose “work is based on a mode of naturalist interpretation that builds from hard science to focus on the inner lens of truth.” The result is, in the words of Kaufmann, “a new portfolio of invented geography that balances ecology and aesthetics as driving and orienting forces.”

Though a love story, to be sure this is also a handbook, as detailed in an introductory table of contents, headed by a chapter entitled “Unfolding California.” The chapters that follow are categorized under the liturgical–like rubrics of “Earth and Mountains,” “ Water and Rivers,” “Fire and Forests,“ “Wind and Weather,” and “Of Life, Death and the Desert,” , among other more placid headings.
Depending on your curiosity, you can, of course, jump from chapter to chapter, and topic to topic, at random, like rock to rock, fording a wide, white-water stream. Expect to be distracted, occasionally slip, get wet and be refreshed.

Thumb nail brief histories as protracted captions to the accompanying hand painted maps, some casually smudged, lend a welcomed perspective So does the informal style, written as if being delivered as an aside by an informed guide who had led you out of a stuffy lecture hall to a hidden forest observation post, far from the madding crowd.

But you definitely should take the book as a companion on your next hike into the woods or along the beach, which it undoubtedly will encourage, whether one is a dedicated environmentalist, an inquisitive surveyor, a weekend wanderer, or walking the dogs, as I do.

The author identified himself as a “wilderness naturalist,” spending a lot of time backpacking, while apparently making ends meet as an illustrator and designer (www coyoteandthunder.com). Refreshingly no past or present academic affiliation is noted, though if asked as I once was in the distant past for a nominee for a coveted MacArthur Foundation grant, I would gladly submit Kaufmann based on this unique book alone.

Kaufmann’s focus is primarily on the natural world, prompted by a pedestrian ethic that reveals the mystery and marvels of California at a walking pace, adding not unlike a book does. “Just as books require literacy, nature requires a level of conceptual symbol reading and narrative comprehension.”

Literature should only have enticing trails as California does, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching 1,662 miles. It is described as a “walking highway for humanity to regain and remember itself, its place, and its purpose,” revealing as do other paths, the state’s ecological treasures.

Kaufmann seems particularly at home in the forest, which he comments is much more challenging to map than a coastline, a river or even a mountain. He notes forests, woodlands, prairies and grasslands are varying living systems that “fail to delineate themselves as singular pieces of geography and resist easy classification.”

For the true tree hugging author, “California is a dancing machine of forest ecosystems that best operate in a fine balance between dualities that include fire and water, aridity and hydration, soil and erosion, climatic consistency and variation, and the push and pull between native and invasive plants and animals.”

But I pause to wonder if for all of his embrace of the forest “dancing machine “and its regime of fires what Kaufmann would have written if he experienced the recent disastrous and deadly fires in his beloved wine country where he roamed as an inquisitive child and now lives? The fires there and the actually more riskier rambling suburbs of southern California were a raw reminder of the vulnerability of the state storied past and a foreboding to its future.

Obviously prior to these worst blazes in the state’s history, Kaufmann wrote that the fires would continue, they being nature’s way for forests to renew themselves. It is all part of a process he describes optimistically as “rewilding,” a renewal of sorts where the “great living machine that is California will roll on forever;” Of course, he blithely adds that is if we heed what science is telling us about climate change, stop burning fossil fuels, and consuming meat, among other regimes.

“With the right information and the right spirit, and a bit of ingenuity, we can ensure that the natural California that our grandchildren and their grandchildren know is even in better condition that it is today.” Though Kaufmann admits to presenting a perhaps “too-rosy” a portrait, commenting that as stewards of the land “we are largely doing a poor job, and perhaps I should have done more to warn of the threats our state faces on an environmental level.”But he unfortunately doesn’t, explaining he wanted the book to be uplifting, confident and cheery. He indeed is not a muckraking journalist, and the narrative regretfully all but ignores the forces of greed and evil lurking under rocks in our political landscape.

Sadly, we know too well from the reports out of a besieged Washington, D.C. that the Trump Administration is conspiring with villainous lobbyists to rape and pillage our culturally and biological heritage to appease business interests, to the ire of environmentalists such as Kaufmann, everywhere.

You sincerely, indeed wishfully, hope Kaufmann is right, and the warnings will be heeded, so maybe you and yours, and the generations of Californians to come, can enjoy his excellent atlas and the inevitable updated editions in the years to come in their anticipated explorations of the once and future great state. And if they do, I would love that they place a stone somewhere in the wilderness for me, and mankind, to be remembered.

Perhaps meanwhile every state legislator and administrator should be given a copy of the “The California Field Atlas,” to read and be reminded of their heritage and responsibility, and gird them for the legislative and legal efforts needed to protect and perpetuate this singular piece of the universe.



If you are still searching for a nice holiday gift for your favorite environmentalist, then “Eureka,“I have found it,” as I reveal this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere ”

The Greek phrase of “Eureka” is perhaps best known as the motto of the state of California, But I echo it here to lend emphasis to my enthusiasm for the “The California Field Atlas,” a uniquely designed book explaining, displaying and celebrating the state’s distinct geography and ecology.

It is an engaging trip along the state’s sandy beaches, up fresh water rivers, across verdant valleys and dry deserts, and into the deep forests and towering mountains beyond.

Published by Heyday Books of Berkeley, California, it is not the usual dry atlas of maps and facts. To be sure, it has a wealth of these visuals, but much more, thanks to an obviously happily obsessed writer, Obi Kaufmann.

He admits that despite having worked on the book his whole life, he still feels like a novice, “an infatuated child, lost and humble beggar, “ asking for the natural wisdom rising out of the state’s unique geography.

Kaufmann is very much a romantic, and writes as if he is far, far from civilization, looking up at a clear, glittering sky and making a wish on the brightest star he sees.

Quote  “I want to hold the whole of California in my hand, like a diamond or spinning top; I want to coax this single piece of the universe into opening up its secrets.” Unquote

By writing, he seeks “to participate in the wild reimagining of this place, past the scars inflicted over the last 200 years, to reveal a story about what has always been here and what will remain long after our human residency here is through.”

It is “a new portfolio of invented geography that balances ecology and aesthetics as driving and orienting forces.”

Depending on your curiosity, you can jump from chapter to chapter, like rock to rock, in a white water river. Just expect to be distracted, occasionally slip, get wet and be refreshed, as I have.




Sam Hall Kaplan commiserates with Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.”


My latest for L.A.’s intellectual oasis.
The Stuff of Dreams: Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design (University of Texas Press, 2017)
By Sam Hall Kaplan
Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design was recently presented to me by an enduring friend, in deference to a haunting academic interest of mine. The hope was for a review, but given the escalating world housing crisis, and with all due respects to the earnest author, it was like a piece of meat thrown into the cage of an angry tiger.
Whither architecture when homelessness mounts? It is frankly hard to get excited about the aesthetics of design, let alone accept an invitation to sit on an architectural jury or review a book, in this age of obscene disparity and social fragmentation.
Nevertheless, the book is compelling, if only to those curious about the current drift of the design profession. Featured are 30 interviews with architects, educators, and writers, all of whom, according Friedman, “aspire to improve the quality of our lives through thoughtful design.” No doubt they do, but, with a few exceptions, most expose the profession’s self-absorption and the sorry lack of its social responsibilities. One imagines the interviews to have been conducted in the upper floors of the latest needle-like luxury residential tower, out of sight and sound of the hoi polloi below.
There is a lot of huffing and puffing in the book — and in today’s world — about residential design. But it should be noted that less than 2 percent of housing in America is designed by architects. Yet unquestionably it is the profession’s true love; as Friedman explains, homes are closer to architects’ hearts than the more richly rewarding commercial and institutional commissions. That stands to reason. After all, the dream of a home of one’s own has to be one of humanity’s more primordial fantasies — a manifestation of our deepest desires and anxieties, exceeding political prejudices, social pretensions, and personal finances.
According to therapists, this is very much a calming dream — no heart palpitations or reactive tossing and turning, just a fluttering of eyes in the REM stage of sleep. The dream is of an idealized shelter, secured in perpetuity by ownership, an iron-bound lease, or stringent rent control. And it isn’t just any shelter, either; rather, it’s one with a distinctive style — historic, modern, or futuristic, traditional or faddist — in a congenial community of escalating values where the dreamers bought or built last year, before the real estate bubbles inflated.
Call it an edifice complex; the dream persists, though it appears increasingly quixotic in the reality of spiraling inequality to which one awakes.
The fact is that fewer and fewer persons these Trumpian days have the resources to retain individual architects to create the singular homes of their dreams or to fashion interiors. Most are happy to have a roof over their heads. But don’t tell that to the design and development community luminaries and their institutional acolytes, to the aspiring star architects and billionaire builders. These include the closeted ego-maniacal Howard Roark clones as well as the Donald Trump types, eager to catch a trend and milk it for as much publicity and income as they can.
Still, the profession likes to pretend it is thoughtfully considerate of the potential occupant, the so-called user, be that a buyer or renter, wealthy or not. Progressive, affordable housing advocates, along with the few architects among them, may be exalted and even presented a plaque by their professional peers. But their programs and pleas are at best given lip service and occasional publicity at yet another self-aggrandizing Urban Land Institute seminar, or an academic think tank workshop.
To be sure, Friedman does his part, interviewing, among others, Andrew Freear, Marianne Cusato, Hadley Arnold, and Cameron Sinclair, all of whom are nobly promoting a range of socially and environmentally conscious designs in the far corners of the country. Sinclair, a former director of Architects for Humanity and now head of a design and development company that focuses on post-conflict reconstruction, lends a chilling perspective. In answer to Friedman’s question about whether residential architecture can be socially transformative, he declares: “If you really want to effect change in the world, you have to understand that utopia is dead. And the reason for that is that there is no silver bullet for the housing crisis, and we are closing in on what will be a global housing crisis.”
But as the book reveals, ego-driven celebrities still dominate the profession, typically not answering Friedman’s diligent questions, but talking about themselves or going off subject. We have architect Charles Gwathmey immodestly declaring, “the house I did for my parents, which I now occupy, was a groundbreaking moment in modern residential architecture in America. In particular, I think it changed the whole idea of American vernacular to a more European-based reference.”
At least Gwathmey is declarative. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately for the reader — other architects are more obtuse. These include two of L.A.’s own stars, Thom Mayne and Eric Owns Moss. In antithesis to an architectural maxim, they somehow take the simple and make it complicated. Some perspective or critical comments by Friedman could have helped, for it has been my experience that architects tend to say one thing to appear to be enlightened, or au courant, but design another. Illustrations of the projects discussed , instead of stock historic photographs, would also have been helpful; a little more show than tell, given the tendency of architects to obfuscate. And maybe there could have been a chapter entitled “Schadenfreude,” exposing the true nature of architecture’s competitive atmosphere.
But the central problem is this: With the price of renting modest apartments to buying humble housing in most major American cities and their sprawling suburbs going up and up, I feel it is simply intellectually indulgent to talk about the design and architecture of homes.
Think about the Millennials scrounging a life in increasingly popular Los Angeles, forever seductive San Francisco, and even an outlander outpost like Portland. (Of course, is some cases, deep-pocketed parents may buy houses for their struggling offspring — house which, of course, serve as a family investment and tax benefit. Welcome to the world of gentrification.) As for New York, “fugettaboutit.” If you hadn’t noticed, the highly polished Big Apple has become a senior assisted living facility for the one-percenters and their immodestly moneyed foreign relatives. I wasborn and ill-bred in Brooklyn, lived and worked in “the city” for several decades, and even co-wrote best-sellers about surviving there (The New York City Handbook) and in its suburbs (The Dream Deferred), but the sight of its current real estate excesses leaves me dazed.
As for my welcoming and pliant Los Angeles, its housing prices are more and more daunting. The homeless problem downtown is particularly disturbing — and shameful for any city government that pretends to be humane. Social and income inequality are the pressing concerns. In this environment, trying to find, much less to fashion, a home of one’s choice is like trying to catch a greased pig.
But Friedman tries to make the subject of his book relevant, and some interesting points are made. The august Richard Meier, the designer of the Getty and a contemporary of mine, declares in a burst of candor: “residential buildings are getting better because people realize they can make more money if they do a good building than if they do a mediocre building. “
And the respected architect and author Sarah Susanka states bluntly that if somebody wants a better house it will require an architect, and money: “That fact automatically puts it into what we might say is an elitist bucket, which is not what I think a lot of us who are architects would wish.”
The essay by columnist Meghan Daum might have been more appropriate as an epilogue rather than as an introduction. It is a somewhat indulgent ramble, describing well-designed houses as having an “almost aphrodisiacal quality,” enslaving us by putting us in debt and forever demanding our attention. But she concludes that they are also “the stuff of dreams.” Or, I might add, nightmares.


The Citizen Saint: Jane Jacobs on the Screen, the Page, and the Streets

The Citizen Saint: Jane Jacobs on the Screen, the Page, and the Streets

By Sam Hall Kaplan

Nearly 60 years after the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and a decade after the passing of its author, Jane Jacobs, her street-smart homilies echo louder than ever. The latest of these echoes is the recently released documentary film, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.

First, the quick take, in keeping with our twittering, capsulated, commercialized present, and with deference to friend Jane, who loved a critical quip: the widely publicized and reviewed documentary by Matt Tyrnauer is unfortunately flawed and superficial.

But it is also recommended — and no doubt the Jane I knew would have appreciated it — for regardless of flaws, it does raise public consciousness about urban design and an appreciation for the potential of grass roots advocacy. And that is what she sought to do in her classic, written against all odds and the powers-that-were. The documentary celebrates her spirit and effort, and should be praised on that basis alone.

This public consciousness is becoming ever more urgent. The future of the world is urbanization, intensifying and voracious, frustrating and challenging. And so Jane’s thoughts are ever more relevant for those who must somehow survive it, there being little alternative.

Be she labeled Citizen Jane or Saint Jane, her pitched public battle against the prevailing planning and development dogma of a half-century ago represented a rare victory of the common citizenry over the unholy alliance of builders, bureaucrats, and politicians. It offers a faint ray of hope in similar battles to come, involving property rights, political power, and the promise of profit.

I remember when Jane first laid out her prescriptions for a more livable city in the late ’50s and early ’60s, over cheap beers in a haze of carcinogenic smoke at a local bar with friends and a few fawning journalists (at the time I was both). That was in the heyday of New York City’s then modest and affordable West Village, where “truth to power” was preached to whomever would listen, and buy a round for the gathered ensemble. The Scranton-born, middle class-bred Jane conveniently lived a few short blocks away from the bar, in a disordered apartment above a vacant store, with her staunchly supportive husband Bob and three children — early urban pioneers bucking the suburban tide of the times.

(For the real estate obsessed, the Jacobs bought the three-story building in the early ’50s for, as I recall, a measly $7,000, which, I noticed recently, is now a month’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the gentrified neighborhood. As for the bar, it is now an enlarged, teeming tavern catering to tourists and Wall Street types.)

So much for the documentary’s absent back story of a once garrulous social scene that included renowned political and urban theorists Michael Harrington and W.H. (Holly) Whyte, authors, respectively, of the seminal tract on poverty, The Other America, and The Organization Man, which exposed the insidious rise of the conformist corporate world.

These and a clamorous chorus of other opinionated ladies and gentleman informed the then aspiring, decidedly left-leaning journalist Jane, as well as me. And though we didn’t realize it then, the scene was a harbinger of the anti-war, feminist, counter-cultural movement that would explode into the national consciousness a few years later.

It was primarily Whyte, a respected senior editor at Fortune magazine, and Douglas Haskell, of Architectural Forum, who mentored the indefatigable Jacobs, feeding her heady assignment on the then struggling center cities. Much to their pleasure, expressed in retrospect to me, the work she brought back revealed a refreshingly contrarian take on the lock-step city planning theory of the period, raising eyebrows in the Times Inc. board room and among the catty academic and self-anointed design and urban planning authorities of the day.

And with Whyte’s assistance, despite her lack of architecture and planning schooling, or maybe because of it, she snared a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation grant. This validation came at a time of strained family finances, and was critical to her being able to write her heartfelt, perceptive, neighborly Greenwich Village-inspired tome.

Impressed by her enterprise and bottom-up urban perspective, Whyte and Haskell further helped her find an interested publisher, the august Random House, and an esteemed editor, Jason Epstein, one of the founders of the New York Review of Books. A devotee of his adopted city, Epstein took a particularly patient interest in the self-described “plain Jane,” whose thick glasses and rumpled house dresses belied her raw intellect, sharp wit, and deadline-driven writing.

To be sure, Jane was not an Ivy League grad with a degree in English lit, which made her a breath of fresh air in publishing circles. She had fire in her gut, for which those who knew her loved her.

Though Citizen Jane is devoid of what I feel is a most relevant and engaging political context and personal drama of Jane as a dedicated activist author, it has nevertheless been enjoying a relatively successful run in art houses, and will likely end up on civics lesson plans in classrooms. The documentary may even reverberate the sycophantic gaggle of community activists, city savants, planning professionals, and apparatchik academics who have held the torch for Jacobs book over the past 50 years. Maybe the book will now be read, as Jane had originally hoped, by neighborhood activists all across the country, who can use it as a guide in their confrontations with avaricious developers and toady local bureaucrats.

Doing what marketable biopics do, Citizen Jane simplifies Jacob’s thesis and presents a classic story of the battle between good and evil, with Jacobs as Saint Jane, and the all powerful, condescending, bombastic bureaucrat Robert Moses as the devil. The battle culminates in Moses’s defeat and demise, and an all victorious and acclaimed Jacobs riding off into the sunset, to Toronto. (And thus taking her two boys out of the draft and harm’s way in the Vietnam War, which she and Bob were vociferously protesting.)

The film gives only a cursory glimpse of how cities are shaped and misshaped, coached in clichés for which the filmmaker could be excused, having been born and bred in suburban Los Angles. But I have to take personal exception to his misreading of East Harlem, where I lived during the tumultuous ’60s and, not incidentally, was Vice Chairman of its Planning Board.

Yet the documentary does provide evocative visuals. Much credit should be given to editor Daniel Morfesis, the archival producers Susan Ricketts and Samantha Kerzner, and the archival researcher, Amilca Palmer. The latter have mined wonderful clips from the morgues of television news stations, which capture the mood of the times and the flavor of the swarming streets. I particularly loved the elderly woman who spoke from the guts against a proposed lower Manhattan expressway that would have devastated her neighborhood and impacted Jane’s beloved West Village; she embodied the salt needed for Jane’s chicken soup.

More of that saltiness and fewer self-conscious talking heads in studio settings would have helped reflect Jane’s passion and commitment. We need advocates rather than apologists. And in updating Jane’s theories, perhaps scenes from the Zuccotti Park protests in lower Manhattan of a few years ago would have been more on topic than stock clips of the high rises of China and the Mideast. We need people not projects.

Ironically, it was the focus on projects rather than people that, in the final analysis, led to Moses’s fall and Jane’s victory, which should be a lesson for neighborhood activists, as well as documentary filmmakers.



By Sam Hall Kaplan

The recent death of book editor and writer William McPherson prompts heartfelt memories of a moment in a bygone East Coast literary Elysium that he shepherded — incidentally changing my life.

No doubt Bill, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, would caustically comment that, as a first sentence to a remembrance, the words above were too sophomoric and sentimental. Especially because they reflected on him. I can see him looking up with a friendly smile and calling the sentence self-aggrandizing and “schmaltzy,” which I would take with a grain of salt as a waggish nod to my roughhewn New York ethnicity.

But then, back in the late ’70s, Bill might haughtily approve of the campy lead as something that would appeal to our typical maudlin readers. And off we’d go, along with whoever else was standing in his book cluttered office at the time, into the eternal debate over who the reader we were writing for actually was.

I might have cited such self-anointed authorities as my former editor at The New York Times, A. M. Rosenthal, whom I remember declaring that the archetypical reader was a precocious nine-year-old. But of course Abe would say that, Bill would retort; he himself having the disposition of a nine-year-old. Bill was wonderfully witty and judgmental, which made him a beloved editor among us bitchy scribes.

Or maybe the reader was the bright, bookish special assistant to a calloused congressman, as Bill’s quick-with-a-quip boss Ben Bradlee might suggest. Jane Howard, my then companion, would remind us that the reader was likely a she — and she’d be right.

Jane was a best-selling author (A Different Woman) and close friends with Joan Didion, with whom she’d been celebrity writer for a celebrated Life magazine. Jane was also a longtime friend of Bill’s. She and I would visit him in D.C., as would other writers, in effect forming a floating salon.

Wanting to end the blather about our readers, Bill would offer up a remark from the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Bill had spoken, a second cup of coffee or glass of wine would be poured, and we’d move on to the next topic or personality to be skewered.

One day at the Post in the fall of 1978, as I stood in Bill’s office looking through a stack of recently published books to chose one I would review, the topic he casually introduced was the possible end of his tenure as the editor of Book World. My immediate concern, of course, was that a new editor, as is their wont, would have his or her friends and favored reviewers, and my assignments would therefore diminish, if not end. But then my thoughts quickly turned to friend Bill.

As Bill told it, that morning Ben Bradlee had, almost off-handily, asked him whether he wouldn’t rather be a writer or book critic, rather than editor of Book World. This would give him time to work on that novel he wanted to write; besides, he himself had always contended that writers had more fun than editors. We writers agreed, even though we thought editors were paid more for being less creative while sitting in a comfortable office protected from the elements, with an intern close by to get them a coffee. What did they do, really?

Apparently Bradlee had already offered the editor’s job to Book World’s dependable deputy, Brigitte Weeks, who had received an offer from the then ascending Los Angeles Times. Bradlee did have the reputation, in those haughty post-Watergate warrior days, of atabbing employees in the heart with a sharp rapier, which, we all felt, was better than being stabbed in the back, as is the style of most senior editors.

It might be of interest to nostalgic readers that the man overlooking the “soft” news and Book World at the time was the smarmy, smiling Shelby Coffey III, who would later become the unctuous executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. Try as he might, Coffey could never exude the spirit and style of the benevolent Ben, and it would have been easy for Bill to stand his ground.

But it was hard for Bill to argue with the august Bradlee, since it was the Post that hired him in 1958, at the age of 25, as a raw copy boy, despite him having dropped out of college twice. And after becoming a reporter a few years later, Bill impetuously left the Post for a job in book publishing, but Bradlee had lured him back with the book editor position. Not only that, he signed the checks. And if you were nice, he and his glamorous wife Sally Quinn might invite you to their storied dinners.

There would be no discussion among friends and associates that day, for Bill declared he had accepted the new assignment. He looked forward to being a journalist again, and, in time, a writer. He added that he actually had the beginnings of a book on paper, with the story shaping in his mind, though would say no more.

It was this jumping from rock to rock in the merging currents of journalism and literature that made Bill a kindred soul, for I too had a fractured career. Among questionable pursuits, I had worked on New York’s waterfront as a “shtarker” and upstate as a seasonal farm laborer; Bill had been a merchant seaman. But I had eventually graduated from Cornell University, which, after a forgettable stint in the army, had no doubt helped me score a job as a copy boy with the New York Times, also in 1958.

Thus we became confiding friends, in the spirit of strangers sitting next to one another on a long sleepless flight, sharing confidences. Except that Bill and I would meet again for years to come, sporadically, especially after I left the New York Post, where I was briefly an editor for Rupert Murdoch, to take a position with the newly minted Carter administration in Washington.

And so, that day, while friend Bill was talking about his new job and reassuring me Brigitte would make a fine editor, and, presumably, be pleased to continue to use me as a reviewer, he stopped and smiled broadly. Then, after a pause for dramatic effect — 40 years later, I remember this distinctly — he suggested I should immediately apply for the book editor post that Brigitte was, at that very moment, calling LA Times editor Jean Sharley Taylor to turn down.

He declared I would be perfect for the rising LA Times, having written reviews for the New York Times under the tutelage of Eliot Fremont-Smith, and for the edgy Village Voice under editor Dan Wolfe and infamous publisher Norman Mailer. And, of course there were the pieces I had written for him at the Post. He noted that, thanks to my Ivy League education, I dressed British, but, being from Brooklyn, thought Yiddish.

Bill handed me his phone, and I got through to Taylor, who said, yes, Weeks had just turned down the job, but the paper had a second choice in the wings, their columnist Art Sidenbaum. He had accepted just minutes ago. Then Taylor mentioned that the cover the paperback of my book The Dream Deferred had prominently quoted a rave L.A. Times review — and asked whether I’d be interested in coming to the coast and discussing Sidenbaum’s former job as an urban commentator.

My hand over the phone, I relayed the query to Bill. He nodded yes enthusiastically. Bill was, of course, right. My professional job in government was mostly bullshit, a divorce was pending, my fickle friend Jane was researching another book and had sublet her apartment, at my suggestion, to former colleague Syd Schanberg, who was returning from the tragic killing fields of Cambodia to become city editor of the N.Y. Times. For those of us who had climbed on the journalistic wagon in the late ’50s, it was a small world.

What the hell, I thought, flew out to Los Angeles the next weekend, loved what I saw, and moved a month later. My thought was that the assignment was, in effect, a generous travel and study grant to Southern California, and I’d probably return to New York in a year or two. That was nearly 40 years ago.

I never saw Bill again. We were going to have drinks, but instead said our goodbyes by phone, promised to keep in touch, and didn’t. I did send him a note in 1984, congratulating him on the praise for his novel, Testing the Current. He never answered, and when his second novel, To the Sargasso Sea, came out in 1988, I didn’t send a note, but I was happy for him.

Bill left the Post a few years later, more or less when I left the L.A. Times. I heard he had gone to Romania as a freelance writer, which would not have been my choice. I became a creative consultant to Disney Imagineering, while continuing to write. When I asked John Gregory Dunne, whom I had met through Jane, why he thought Bill had become an ex-pat correspondent, he had no answer. This was soon after the great success of John’s True Confessions. Changing topics from Bill to me, John asked, ruefully, why I had stayed in Southern California. “It’s comfortable, “ I said. “Corrupting,” he added. And, for the literary world, “corroding.”

Then, inevitably, mortality began taking its toll. First Jane passed, then Art, John, Sydney, and Dick Eder. Others. Not having heard from or about him for years, I thought Bill had also passed, only to read in 2014 that he was back in Washington, his health dwindling, and his finances worse. He chronicled his ill fortune in an essay for The Hedgehog Review, titling it “Falling.”

It was a sad, indeed tragic, tale. But the topic was substantive. As an editor, Bill would have approved. It was worthy of a novel, or at least a long discussion at a salon.