I was born and raised in Silicon Valley, where my family had lived for four generations. I’ve worked as a blackjack dealer, a glazier, a janitor, a bartender at a topless club, an editor at a Russian literary journal, and a technical writer at Apple. I have a BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University.
I began my career as a journalist covering crime and politics in New York City for 7 Days, a weekly magazine that won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 1990. Since 1996 I have been a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone, where I have written about a wide variety of subjects, from hookers and politicians to climate scientists and internet billionaires. "Down and Out in Silicon Valley," a Rolling Stone story chronicling life in homeless shelters in the Valley, was chosen as one of the best business stories of the year by the editors of BusinessWeek. I've also written for lots of other publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Wired.
My first book, The Cyberthief and the Samurai (Dell, 1996), grew out of a Rolling Stone article and told the story of the hunt for notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. "Goodell's propulsive narrative reads like a high-tech cousin of The Hot Zone yet presents a broad, balanced look at hacker culture," book critic Dwight Garner wrote. My next book, Sunnyvale (Villard, 2000) a memoir about growing up in Silicon Valley, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. "Goodell's story, despite, or maybe because of, its inexorability, is riveting," novelist Sam Lipsyte said in the New York Times Book Review.
In 2001, I wrote a story about the comeback of the U.S. coal industry for The New York Times Magazine. That article made me curious to understand more about what goes on behind the light switch and lead, indirectly, to my third book, Our Story (Hyperion, 2002), an account of nine miners trapped in a Pennsylvania coal mine for 77 hours, which was a national bestseller.
I spent the next three years reporting and writing Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). I spent a week in an underground mine in Pennsylvania, hiked through West Virginia with anti-mountaintop removal activists, rode a coal train through the Black Hills of South Dakota, toured coal plants in China, and spent a month in the North Atlantic with climate scientists aboard the R/V Knorr, a research vessel operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The New York Times called Big Coal "a compelling indictment of one of the country's biggest, most powerful and most antiquated industries—"well-written, timely, and powerful."
To research my latest book, How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate, I spent several years with some of the world's top climate modelers, as well as Cold War physicists, philosophers, politicians, and crackpot entrepreneurs, all of whom are involved with the development of new technologies that might someday be used to manipulate the earth's climate to reduce the risks associated with global warming. How to Cool the Planet won the 2011 Grantham Prize Award of Special Merit, citing it as an "immensely readable, carefully researched and groundbreaking contribution to the literature on climate change."
As a commentator on energy and environmental issues, I have appeared on NPR, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, ABC, NBC, PBS, Fox News and The Oprah Winfrey Show.