Michael J. Ybarra

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Michael J. Ybarra Michael J. Ybarra photo cover for his book Washington Gone Crazy.jpg
Michael J. Ybarra

Michael Jay Ybarra (September 28, 1966 – June 30 or July 1, [1] [2] [3] [4] 2012) was an American journalist, author and adventurer whose non-fiction work appeared in various national publications. In 2004, his book about McCarthyism, Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt, [5] won the D.B. Hardeman Prize. As the extreme sports correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Ybarra wrote articles about outdoor adventure, providing the genre with a wider audience than it typically receives.


Life and career

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ybarra graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1990 with a B.A. in political science. It was during his undergraduate years at UCLA that he started writing professionally for the Los Angeles Times , followed by the Chicago Tribune . During his brief stint at the Chicago Tribune, he interviewed future President Barack Obama. [6] After graduating from UCLA, Ybarra moved to Washington, D.C., where he wrote for The Washington Post . He left to return to school and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1992 with an M.A. in political science.

Ybarra had a 25-year career as a journalist and author. An article he wrote for TheWashington Post, "Activists Attest to Romania's Idea of Democracy", was entered into the Congressional Record at the request of Senator Ted Kennedy. His story about Hurricane Katrina for CIO Decisions magazine, "The Long Road Back", won a National Azbee Gold Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and a Bronze Tabbie Award for feature article. Ybarra reported on a wide variety of topics and people, including President Obama, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, [7] Patagonia founder and climber Yvon Chouinard, novelist Norman Mailer, [8] historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., veteran climber Fred Beckey [9] and television personality Bill Maher. [10]

In the early 1990s, Ybarra began working for TheWall Street Journal as a staff reporter in its San Francisco bureau. It was during this period that he started researching and writing Washington Gone Crazy. The book was published by Steerforth in 2004 to critical acclaim. Author, professor and CBS News commentator Douglas Brinkley wrote: "Esteemed scholar Michael J. Ybarra's Washington Gone Crazy — based on extensive new archival research — offers a fair-minded, and ultimately devastating, portrait of Nevada's notorious Cold Warrior. A truly landmark study." It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize [11] and was shortlisted for the Ambassador Book Award in American Studies, and The New York Times Book Review listed it among the 100 Notable Books of the Year. [12] Washington Gone Crazy also won the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress from the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation. [13] Award committee member H. W. Brands, the Dickson, Allen, Anderson Centennial Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, said Ybarra's work was "that rare book which has something really new to say on an old subject". A digital version, featuring an introduction by Sam Tanenhaus, a former editor of The New York Times Book Review, is slated to be released in 2015.

While on a trip to Peru in 2004, Ybarra took his first climbing lessons. He subsequently became an avid climber and adventurer. Ybarra traveled widely, climbing, hiking and kayaking in such places as Nepal, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Switzerland, Italy, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, Montana, Utah and the Sierra Nevada. From 2007 until his death in 2012, he chronicled his adventures for TheWall Street Journal as its extreme sports correspondent, publishing more than 30 pieces.

Death and legacy

Ybarra was killed on June 30, 2012, in a climbing accident on the Sawtooth Ridge in Yosemite National Park. Mr. Ybarra’s sister, Suzanne, said the family had reported him missing on Sunday after he did not return from what was supposed to be a two-day solo climb. [14] Upon Ybarra's death, TheWall Street Journal released the following statement: "Michael Ybarra was an extraordinary journalist. In the best traditions of his profession he enlightened and engaged readers on a wide array of topics in clear, vivid prose. His passion for the outdoors was evident not only in his writing for the Leisure & Arts and Book sections — reviews and essays written with such verve you felt you were right beside him on a mountain face or in a kayak — but in the way he lived. We mourn his passing, and send our thoughts and prayers to his family." [15]

As a writer, he left behind a large body of published work spanning more than two decades. A portion of Ybarra's personal collection of climbing books is housed at the California Institute of Technology in the Sherman Fairchild Library as "The Michael J. Ybarra Memorial Collection." Bret Israel, Sunday Calendar editor of the Los Angeles Times, established a scholarship at UCLA in Ybarra's memory for humanities students studying abroad. Ybarra's Pat McCarran memorabilia is available to the public at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. His papers for Washington Gone Crazy are at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Selected bibliography




  1. As Ybarra set out on Saturday, 29 June, and was climbing alone, there is uncertainty about the exact date of his death. The New York Times says it happened on "the weekend" of 29 June to July 1, as does The Union Democrat. Huffpost intimates that his fall occurred on Sunday, 1 July.
  2. Miles, Kathleen (2012-07-05). "Extreme Sports Writer Falls To His Death". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  3. "Climber falls to death by Yosemite". The Union Democrat. Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  4. Hevesi, Dennis (2012-07-06). "Michael J. Ybarra, Author and Extreme-Sports Reporter, Is Dead at 45". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  5. Ybarra, Michael J. "Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and The Great American Communist Hunt " (1st ed. Hanover, N.H.: Steerforth Press), pp. 818. ISBN   1586420658.
  6. Ybarra, Michael J (1990-02-07). "Activist In Chicago Now Heads Harvard Law Review". Articles.chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  7. Ybarra, Michael (2000-10-09). "The Novelist as Wonder Boy". Articles.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  8. Ybarra, Michael J. "Interview: Norman Mailer." Calgary Herald', March 2003.
  9. Ybarra, Michael J. (2011-11-10). "The Old Man, His Mountains". Online.wsj.com. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  10. Ybarra, Michael J. (1998-06-14). "A Most Unlikely Star". Articles.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  11. "Book Prizes – Los Angeles Times Festival of Books". Events.latimes.com. April 23, 2005. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  12. Hevesi, Dennis (July 6, 2012). "Michael J. Ybarra, Extreme-Sports Reporter, Dies at 45". New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  13. "12 millionth visitor expected release". Lbjlib.utexas.edu. Archived from the original on 2014-01-16. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  14. Hevesi, Dennis (2012-07-06). "Michael J. Ybarra, Author and Extreme-Sports Reporter, Is Dead at 45". The New York Times.
  15. Ovide, Shira (2012-07-05). "Writer Michael J. Ybarra, 45, Is Killed Near Yosemite". Online.wsj.com. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-12-19.

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