May 29, 2014
Dan Fagin, a professor in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, has won The New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism for Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation.
“Dan Fagin epitomizes what the Bernstein Award is all about – powerful, in-depth reporting that informs the public, shapes policy, and changes the world,” said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. “We are honored to recognize him and all of this year’s finalists, journalists of the highest caliber whose hard work and dedication to the truth are essential to a great democracy.”
The work, which tells the story of a New Jersey town ravaged by industrial pollution, with a cluster of childhood cancers scientifically linked to local air and water pollution, was last month awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of “General Nonfiction.”
In Toms River, Fagin, director of the Carter Journalism Institute’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP), takes the reader beyond a single community to cover a much larger subject: the centuries-long quest to understand the complex relationship between pollution and cancer.
In it, Fagin blends investigative reporting with a scientific detective narrative and deep historical research to reveal how rampant pollution and inadequate oversight made Toms River a cautionary example for fast-growing industrial towns from South Jersey to South China. He also explores how new information about gene-environment interaction is changing our understanding of how cancer begins.
“It’s high time a book did for epidemiology what Jon Krakauer’s best-selling ‘Into Thin Air’ did for mountain climbing: transform a long sequence of painfully plodding steps and missteps into a narrative of such irresistible momentum that the reader not only understands what propels enthusiasts forward, but begins to strain forward as well, racing through the pages to get to the heady views at the end,” the New York Times wrote last March.
The Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, which includes a $15,000 cash prize, was established through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein, in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein (now Helen Bernstein Fealy) and has been given to journalists whose books have brought clarity and public attention to important issues, events, or policies.