The West Tisbury author and historian Tony Horwitz died suddenly in Washington, D.C., on Monday, his wife Geraldine Brooks confirmed.

Mr. Horwitz was 60 and had been on tour for his new book, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide.

Through a long career that began as a journalist and continued through numerous books, Mr. Horwitz wrote as he lived, leading with the gift of a raconteur who championed the underdog but included all voices equally in his stories. As a journalist he reported from war zones around the world for the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker and New York Times, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his series in the Wall Street Journal about low-wage workers in America.

His many books were historical in frame and personal in execution as he walked, sailed, flew, crawled, rode on horseback and mule through the backyards of history, mixing past and present in narratives as humorous as they were enlightening.

He was born on June 9, 1958, in Washington D.C. He was educated at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University and the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Right from the start he educated himself on his subjects by walking in their footsteps, even before he became a writer.

“I went straight from college to work as a union organizer in Mississippi,” he wrote in an essay for the Vineyard Gazette about his beginnings. “This was perhaps the worst career choice you could make in 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office and promptly busted the air traffic controllers union. White Mississippians were even more hostile to unions — and to snot-nosed Yankees coming South to “stir things up” among the mostly black workforce I’d been sent to organize.”

That first experience revealed to him he was perhaps better suited as a writer than an activist, although the two remained intertwined in all his work. After his year as an organizer he gathered the material into a feature article.

“To my delight and surprise, a weekly in Jackson printed the piece and paid me $50. I still remember the lead sentence: ‘Booker Price is a one-armed, one-toothed preacher from Its, Mississippi.’ The weekly went out of business shortly after, but I had my first clip, and on the strength of that I applied to journalism school.”

After a successful career in journalism, Mr. Horwitz turned to writing best-selling books, sailing the seas with Captain James Cook in Blue Latitudes, exploring the Middle East in Baghdad Without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia, and roaming the Australian Outback in One for the Road.

A trip to Plymouth Rock was the inspiration for A Voyage Long and Strange about the explorers of the New World, and the sound of musket fire near his Virginia backyard propelled him forward on the subject he first became enamored with as a child and to which he frequently returned: the American Civil War.

He embedded himself with Civil War reenactors for Confederates in the Attic, and looked beyond the myth and legend to track down the real story and character of abolitionist John Brown for Midnight Rising. For his most recent book Spying on the South, published this spring, he retraced the journey of Frederick Olmsted, who before he became the nation’s best known landscape architect wrote dispatches for the New York Times while traveling in the pre-Civil War south.

In Spying on the South, Mr. Horwitz combines the history of Olmsted’s travels and impressions with his own reportage on today’s socio-political landscape. An openly liberal reporter in a mostly conservative landscape, Mr. Horwitz befriends and talks to people of all persuasions, in their kitchens and town halls, their bars and cafeterias, a testament to both his skill as a writer and his generosity of spirit.

Mr. Horwitz moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2006, with his wife Geraldine Brooks, where they raised their two children Nathaniel and Bizu. He lived full-time in West Tisbury, gave readings around the Island whenever a new book came out and led interviews of other authors, including a discussion with Michael Pollan at last year’s Author Series. He was scheduled to appear at this summer’s Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, among other things. He was also an avid participant in the longstanding summer Chilmark softball game.

In his essay for the Gazette about his year as a union organizer and his first published piece, he summed up his vocation this way: “Thirty years later, I still don’t know my way around a chainsaw, and all trees look pretty much alike. But I’m grateful for my brief career as a union organizer, because it taught me that everyone has a story. All I had to do was listen, ask questions and write it down, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.”