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Stephen Fried

Award-winning journalist and historian

  • About Stephen Fried

    Stephen Fried is an award-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author who teaches at Columbia University and at the University of Pennsylvania.

    He is the author of the acclaimed biographies Rush: Revolution, Madness and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, which was an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year, a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize, and an inaugural selection of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library book club; Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West—One Meal at a Time, which was adapted into a PBS documentary, and Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia, which inspired the Emmy-winning film Gia and introduced the word “fashionista” to the English language. He is the co-author, with Congressman Patrick Kennedy, of A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, and his other books include Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs, The New Rabbi, and Husbandry.

    A two-time winner of the National Magazine Award, he has frequently written for Vanity Fair, GQ, The Washington Post Magazine, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Glamour, and Philadelphia magazine.

    Fried and his wife, author Diane Ayres, live in Philadelphia, just a few blocks from where Dr. Benjamin Rush lived, and the nation was born.

  • Speaking Topics

    Benjamin Rush: The Dr. Fauci of the Founding Fathers

    Meet Dr. Benjamin Rush, the visionary physician who became a young signer of the Declaration, convinced Washington to inoculate the troops against smallpox and, by the 1790s, was the nation’s leading medical expert--our First Fauci. In 1793, his knowledge, resilience and patriotism were tested as he heroically fought America’s first pandemic, Yellow Fever in the U.S. capitol of Philadelphia, which killed ten percent of the population in three months. Bestselling author Stephen Fried takes you behind-the-scenes of the country’s original medical crisis, to explore the very first time that science, fear, media outrage and partisan politics obsessed the country, and put its health at risk. It’s also the story of how our First Fauci—along with Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton—helped the country survive and rebuild.

    What Dr. Benjamin Rush Can Teach Us About Epidemics in America

    Dr. Benjamin Rush was America’s most important physician and medical educator when the new nation was hit by its first epidemic. The Yellow Fever of 1793 struck the nation’s then-capital of Philadelphia, killing ten percent of the city’s population in just three months. His experiences on the frontlines of care—after most of the city’s doctors fled—not only capture the drama and challenges of this epidemic, but serve to inspire and inform our understanding of what is happening in America today under the coronavirus. He saw, as we do, the friction between science and politics during a national medical emergency, as well as the challenge of keeping doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals alive and mentally well so they can treat the rest of us.

    Stephen Fried’s new research into the medical, political and racial aspects of Yellow Fever 1793, and his passionate insights into other American pandemics like the 1918 flu and the AIDS crisis come together in his talks to both adult and young audiences. He is available for Zoom and other remote learning sessions in the foreseeable future.

    American Hippocrates: Benjamin Rush's Medical Revolution

    Benjamin Rush was America’s first hugely influential physician: one of the original professors at the nation's first medical school; a signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general in the Revolutionary War; and the landmark attending physician at the country's first hospital--where he revolutionized the care of mental illness and addiction. He wrote the first important American medical texts on military medicine, mental health care and physician training, but was served many of the founders as physician and therapist, leading his friends John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to restore their politically fractured relationship. In this witty and engaging presentation, Stephen Fried introduces audiences to the intriguing story of this lesser-known Founding Father.

    This talk can be adjusted for professional or lay audiences, and can focus on general medicine, mental health, or addiction.

    Dr. Benjamin Rush, America's First Mental Health and Addiction Advocate

    Dr. Benjamin Rush's revolutionary approach to health care included his bold insistence that mental illness and addiction were medical conditions and not caused by a lack of faith or a failure of will. This controversial idea, which he taught in the classroom practiced in the examination room, and explored in the first-ever American book on mental health, became his most lasting contribution to medicine. He is now widely considered the founding father of American psychiatry, clinical psychology and addiction medicine. Unfortunately, this topic remains controversial to this day, as advocates and clinicians still have to argue that those struggling with mental illness and addiction deserve the same care and sympathy as those with any other chronic medical condition. In this lecture, Fried tells the heroic story of Dr. Rush's activism, and how his battle for the humane treatment of the mentally ill became a personal one.

    What Would Fred Do? What Your Company Can Learn from America's First National Chain

    From the 1870s through World War II, the Fred Harvey Company dominated the hospitality, food service, and retail industries while inventing many of the best practices companies still use today. Stephen Fried's New York Times-bestselling biography of this multigenerational empire, Appetite for America, has been a favorite in hospitality and culinary schools and companies, as well as a bible for cultural tourists in the American West. In this rousing, hilarious talk aimed at organizations interested in inspiring ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit, Fried brings to life unforgettable characters who tackled the challenge of perfect customer service.

    Engaging Communities of Faith around Mental Health

    In this powerful program, Fried addresses how faith communities can encourage support, inclusion, and understanding for those struggling with mental illness and addiction, along with their families, their caregivers, and their clinicians. Equally useful for communities of faith who are new to this area and those looking to grow existing programming, Fried welcomes other experts, from clergy to mental health professionals to community members, to join him for a moderated Q&A after his stirring talk. Fried tailors this program specifically for each community's leadership, needs, and goals, and can adjust formatting, length, and focus as necessary.

    A Founding Father's Mission to Separate Church and State

    While best-known as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary America's most noteworthy physician, Benjamin Rush's fascination with the role of faith in the new nation ignited fateful debates between the Founding Fathers whose repercussions affect American politics and culture to this day. In this talk, Fried shows how Rush's spiritual journey impacted America's most basic tenets and he dispels common misconceptions about what the nation's founders truly believed.

  • Video

  • Praise for Stephen Fried


    Stephen Fried is a biographer with a difference. He connects the threads of history to our national identity. With an ear tuned to people, events, and place, his writings and lectures weave an engaging storyline. Fred Harvey, the Kennedys, Dr. Rush and the founding fathers find relevance to their times and our own in Fried’s capable hands. I have watched him engage an audience in a historical or medical topic they might never have contemplated.

    Missouri History Museum

    Stephen is the epitome of a great author. He thoroughly researches his topics, presents them in a well-written manner, and speaks eloquently in his presentations. He is the ideal author and speaker that those of us in public affairs and programming want to work with every day!

    National Archives and Records Administration, Kimberlee Ried

    Stephen is a compelling and articulate speaker. His use of supporting AV was helpful, the Q&A after the talk was lively. His topic was hard, but he brought light to it. If I were looking for a speaker, I would be happy to bring Stephen Fried in.

    Adath Israel on the Main Line, Elliott Miller, Past President

    Praise for Rush

    Entertaining . . . Benjamin Rush has been undeservedly forgotten. In medicine . . . [and] as a political thinker, he was brilliant.

    The New Yorker

    Superb . . . reminds us eloquently, abundantly, what a brilliant, original man Benjamin Rush was, and how his contributions to . . . the United States continue to bless us all.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer

    Perceptive . . . [a] readable reassessment of Rush’s remarkable career.

    The Wall Street Journal

    An amazing life and a fascinating book.

    CBS This Morning

    Fried makes the case, in this comprehensive and fascinating biography, that renaissance man Benjamin Rush merits more attention. . . . will keep readers engaged until the last page.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    [An] extraordinary and underappreciated man is reinstated to his rightful place in the canon of civilizational advancement in Rush. . . . [a] superb biography.

    Brain Pickings

    Fried, a talented story teller, has given his readers a page-turning text to enjoy . . . [he] has brought Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush back to life for modern readers. . . . a most worthy addition to major biographies about the founding fathers of the United States.

    Journal of the American Revolution

    An important and fascinating account of a relatively neglected yet critical Founding Father. Benjamin Rush—Surgeon General of the Continental Army, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Jefferson’s choice for medical advisor to the Lewis and Clark Expedition—is also acknowledged as the father of American Psychiatry for his study and treatment of the mentally ill. Stephen Fried brings to life Rush’s extraordinary political and medical contributions, as well as the times in which he lived.

    Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind and Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire

    An engrossing exploration of a founding father whose life sheds new light on the American Revolution, as well as on the ongoing challenges of civil rights and mental healthcare in this country. I had no idea how much Rush helped to shape our young nation and how urgent his voice remains today. Anyone who cares about our past and future—politically, medically, spiritually—should read this masterful biography.

    Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy

    Stephen Fried has written a gem of a book—the riveting story of a Founding Father who is too often forgotten. In this magnificent work, Benjamin Rush gets the biography he deserves, and readers get an expertly researched, splendidly written account of a brilliant, influential man and the times in which he lived.

    Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

    Benjamin Rush is best known as the founding father the more famous founders wrote to. Stephen Fried, in this fascinating biography, shows us why we need to reconsider, and pay more attention to a man whose talents rivaled Franklin’s, opinions equaled Adams’s, and facility with language approached Jefferson’s.

    H.W. Brands, author of The First American and Heirs of the Founders

    Praise for Thing of Beauty

    Stephen Fried has done an admirable job reconstructing Gia's frenzied life...Fried makes a convincing case, through recording Gia's travails, that fetching eyes and a killer body are not enough. This is a chilling tale that every pretty, stupid young thing should read.

    Boston Globe

    Gia's story has everything — glamor, glitz, squalor and tragedy.

    Liz Smith

    Vivid...The story of Gia Carangi...should be set out among the fashion magazines in modeling agency waiting rooms and any other place where teen-age girls who've been called pretty a little too often hang out...Stephen Fried's exhaustive account of Gia's brief life seems to have an important unanswered quesition on every page: why didn't anyone help Gia?

    The New York Times

    Praise for A Common Struggle (with Patrick J. Kennedy)

    Fascinating … This book is a must-read, not only for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders, but also for the professionals who treat them and for those who pay for that treatment.

    Dr. George Koob, Director National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Clinical Psychiatry News

    Searching and fearless.

    Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe

    A stunningly unvarnished portrait of one of America’s most private public families…


    Praise for Appetite for America

    A magnificent tale of America coming of age, told with mastery and a lively sense of humor.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer

    [Fried makes] an impressive case for this Horatio Alger tale written in mashed potatoes and gravy ... He tells his story in crisp prose and delightful detail ... a business story and a sweeping social history populated with memorable characters.

    The Wall Street Journal

    Very satisfying ... a delicious biography ... Harvey’s amazing story is a tale of trailblazing entrepreneurship in trying circumstances.


    An expansive chronicle ... From Wild West shootouts among railroads over land claims to the beginning of passenger airlines, Fred Harvey’s story includes meaty chunks of history—the opening of Route 66, the Roaring Twenties ... As Fred Harvey grew, so did America.

    Jane and Michael Stern, New York Times Book Review

    If history books had read like Appetite for America when I was in school, I would have spent a lot more time with my nose in a book ... Once in a while you pick up a book that prompts you to make of list of people you simply must recommend it. Appetite for America is one of those.

    Appetite for America is the kind of superb non-fiction you don’t see anymore—marvelously reported, fluidly written and a remarkable story about a remarkable man who influenced American culture perhaps more than anyone alive past or present. Today he is a footnote, but Stephen Fried brings him alive in a true story as brilliant as it is meticulous as it is compulsively readable.

    Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights

    Part business story, part social history, part family saga, Appetite for America gives us the winning of the West in a whole new mouthwatering way.

    Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder

    Praise for Husbandry

    A charming collection of personal essays about marriage by a guy who sounds like a devoted husband—but still a guy, and that what makes this book fun. ...Wives will love this book—it’s both funny and true.

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    A great read—it’s funny and touching and enlightening. It touches on ... all the stuff women are dying to know about men.

    Dallas Observer

    Any woman who’s married or been married, or has/had a boyfriend ... [will] read, laugh and nod in agreement.

    Chicago Sun Times

    Fried is insightful as well as funny.

    Publishers Weekly

    Praise for The New Rabbi

    Brave . . . remarkable . . . a book about leadership that you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate.

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Fascinating . . . Beneath the story about synagogue politics is a novel-like story about love and loss.

    New York Times

    Compelling . . . extraordinarily valuable . . . intertwines a personal search for religious meaning with a communal search for continuity. . . . Fried hoped to shed light on the future of the rabbinic profession and, indirectly, on the future of Judaism and organized religion in America . . . and [he] gets it absolutely right.

    Washington Post Book World

    Praise for Bitter Pills

    One of the year’s best books…startling…sobering.

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Bitter Pills could save your life.

    San Diego Union Tribune


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