Tony Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote acclaimed nonfiction books that explored the Confederate cultural legacy in the South, the voyages of Capt. James Cook, and the author’s own comical and sometimes harrowing journeys around the world, died May 27 in Washington. He was 60.
He collapsed while walking near his brother’s home in the District, said his wife, Geraldine Brooks, a Pulitzer-winning novelist. An autopsy has not been completed, but his wife said an attending physician at a hospital cited cardiac arrest as a possible cause of death.
Mr. Horwitz had written for the New Yorker and, earlier in his career, the Wall Street Journal, where he won the Pulitzer in 1995 for stories about low-paying jobs in Southern poultry-packing plants.
A resident of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., he was visiting his hometown of Washington while on tour to promote his latest book, “Spying on the South,” which retraces the 19th-century travels of journalist and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Known for his rollicking first-person accounts, Mr. Horwitz hitchhiked across the Australian outback for his first book, “One for the Road” (1987), and climbed aboard an 18th-century sailing ship in “Blue Latitudes” (2002) to re-create Cook’s journeys throughout the Pacific.
“While every town and village Cook had passed through wanted to claim him as a native son, Cook didn’t truly belong to any of them,” Mr. Horwitz wrote. “He was a traveler for most of his life: a rebel against the rootedness and narrow horizons of his North Yorkshire childhood. His real home, if he had one, was the sea.”
Something similar could be said of Mr. Horwitz, writer Michael Lewis, a longtime friend, said Tuesday in an interview. Nearly all of Mr. Horwitz’s books viewed history through the prism of travel and firsthand experience.
“He was always so much more comfortable on the move than at rest,” Lewis said. “His writing was a byproduct of that restlessness. He was always sure that if he hit the road, he would find something interesting.”
In “Baghdad Without a Map, and Other Misadventures in Arabia” (1991), Mr. Horwitz journeyed from Egypt to Yemen to Libya to the non-Arab country of Iran. He was often in situations that could be considered comical, if they weren’t so dangerous.
In the middle of a demonstration in Tehran, Mr. Horwitz found himself in a crowd chanting “Death to America.” He met an English-speaking demonstrator who unexpectedly asked Mr. Horwitz about Disneyland. “It has always been my dream,” he said, “to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.”
Then the protester resumed shouting “Death to America!”
Another time, Mr. Horwitz was under siege from artillery fire in a boat outside Beirut, when a fellow passenger turned to him and said, “You are very brave. And maybe very stupid.”
Mr. Horwitz described his books as “participatory history,” telling USA Today, “I like to get my hands dirty.” He did both in his best-selling “Confederates in the Attic” (1998), in which he joined Civil War reenactors in their efforts to retrieve the past, donning woolen uniforms, sleeping outdoors and eating rancid sowbelly.
Even amid the modern-day playacting, however, the age-old divisions of the Civil War kept springing back to life.
“Everywhere, it seemed,” Mr. Horwitz wrote, “I had to explore two pasts and two presents; one white, one black, separate and unreconcilable.” The passage of time could not disguise “how poisonous and polarized memory of the past could become.”
Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley praised “Confederates in the Attic” as “hilariously funny at times, poignant and sad at others.” Several Southern-heritage groups sought to have the book banned from schools and interrupted Mr. Horwitz at his readings.
He returned to the region for “Midnight Rising,” his 2011 study of John Brown’s 1859 attack on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. (then part of Virginia), and again for “Spying on the South,” which was published on May 14. He had been scheduled to speak about the book this week at Politics & Prose in the District.
Anthony Lander Horwitz was born June 9, 1958, in Washington. His father was a neurosurgeon, and his mother was an editor and author of children’s books.
He graduated from the private Sidwell Friends School in the District and was a 1981 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University. He then worked briefly as a labor organizer in Mississippi, when he realized “I liked writing better than agitating.” He received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1983.
He followed his wife, Brooks, to her native Australia and worked at the Sydney Morning Herald. The Wall Street Journal later sent her as a foreign correspondent to Cairo, where Mr. Horwitz freelanced before joining the Journal’s staff in London.
Later based in the United States, he covered workplace issues for the Journal, including the fast-growing, dangerous and low-wage poultry industry. His stories won a Pulitzer for national reporting.
Brooks won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2006 for “March,” a novel about the Civil War.
“We are each other’s first and last editors,” Mr. Horwitz told the Birmingham News in 2008. “Nothing goes out of the house without the other one having read it carefully. We’ve been doing that for over 20 years now.”
They lived in Waterford, Va., before moving to the Martha’s Vineyard town of Tisbury.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Horwitz’s survivors include two sons, Nathaniel Horwitz of Cambridge, Mass., and Bizu Horwitz of Tisbury; his mother, Elinor Horwitz of Washington; a brother; and a sister.
In 1996, Mr. Horwitz joined the staff of the New Yorker and continued to publish other books, including “The Devil May Care: Fifty Intrepid Americans and Their Quest for the Unknown” (2003) and “A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World” (2008) about America before Columbus.
During the late 1980s, when Mr. Horwitz and Brooks were covering the Iran-Iraq war, they came upon a group of Iraqi soldiers about to bury dead Iranian troops in the desert. Bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment were preparing to plow the unidentified bodies under the sand, with no attempt to return them to their homeland.
Mr. Horwitz stepped out, his wife recalled in an interview, blocking the Iraqi vehicles from moving.
“He stood in front of the bulldozers and said, ‘You can’t do this,’” Brooks said. The Iraqis turned the equipment around. “That’s when I knew I had married the right man.”