Simon Winchester, best-selling author, journalist, and broadcaster, has worked as a foreign correspondent for most of his career and lectures widely at universities, geological and historical societies, and libraries. He is also the author of the New York Times best-seller The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, the remarkable story of Joseph Needham, the eccentric and adventurous scientist who fell in love with China and whose own work there unveils the epic story of that magisterial country.
The author of 19 books, including the best-sellers The Professor and the Madman, an account of the men behind the Oxford English Dictionary, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, and The Map that Changed the World, about the nineteenth century geologist William Smith, Winchester specializes in eccentric, obsessive geniuses. He is praised for his skills as a masterful and riveting storyteller both on the page and in lectures.
In his latest book, Pacific (Harper), Winchester takes us from the Bering Strait to Cape Horn, from the Yangtze River to the Panama Canal, with stops on the many small islands and archipelagos that lie in between, in the middle of this vast expanse of water. Winchester watches the fall of a dictator in Manila, lives with aboriginals in northern Queensland, does time in the jail in Tierra del Fuego, the land at the end of the world. He drives the Alaska highway, spends time on the Pitcairn Islands (one of the most geographically isolated places on earth), spends six months walking from one end of South Korea to the other, and travels to their bellicose northern neighbor as well. Winchester’s personal experience is vast, his historical understanding of the region formidable. Pacific is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of travel, research, and awe, a love song and a worthy tribute to a place that has long captured the imagination.
Winchester’s journalistic work, mainly for The Guardian and the Sunday Times, has landed him in Belfast, Washington, DC, New Delhi, New York, London, and Hong Kong, where he covered such stories as the Ulster crisis, the creation of Bangladesh, the fall of President Marcos, the Watergate affair, the Jonestown Massacre, the assassination of Egypt’s President Sadat, the recent death and cremation of Pol Pot, and, in 1982, the Falklands War. During this conflict he was arrested and spent three months in prison in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego on spying charges.
Although he graduated from Oxford in 1966 with a degree in geology, Winchester only spent a year working as a geologist in the Ruwenzori Mountains in western Uganda and on oil rigs in the North Sea, before joining his first newspaper in 1967. He now works principally as an author, although he contributes to a number of American and British magazines and journals, including Harper’s, The Smithsonian, National Geographic Magazine,The Spectator, Granta, theNew York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. He was appointed Asia-Pacific Editor of Conde Nast Traveler at its inception in 1987, later becoming Editor-at-Large. His writings have won him several awards including Britain’s Journalist of the Year. He writes and presents television films, including a series on the final colonial years of Hong Kong and on a variety of other historical topics, and is a frequent contributor to the BBC radio program, From Our Own Correspondent. Winchester is a fellow at London’s Royal Geological Society.
He lives with his wife in New York City and has a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
Praise for Simon Winchester:
"We immensely enjoyed having Simon Winchester at our 2009 China Forum in Shanghai. With his marvelous oratory skills he delighted the audience and sparked the kind of intellectual curiosity one develops in hallowed halls of academia but has since long buried. Simon's engaging style inspires you to return to that thirst for knowledge and motivates you to dig deeper into the wealth of rich history he is deservedly famous for portraying."
— Grace Hung, Director of Strategic Initiatives, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets
"The entire event was a huge success - from start to finish, Mr. Winchester was incredibly kind and attentive to our VIPs and guests, and he charmed our largest crowd to date at the evening lecture! His ability to tell stories in a very conversational manner made his talk one of our patrons' favorites in 18 years of the series. We would absolutely recommend him to other organizations - and I know I am personally looking forward to diving into Pacific!"
— Rachel Randles, Communications & Marketing Manager, Oregon Historical Society
Praise for Atlantic:
"History is rarely as charming and entertaining as when it's told by Simon Winchester. There are fabulout set pieces in Atlantic -- on piracy, on packet ships, on trans-Atlantic cables and the speeding up of information, on cofish, on sea bass, on plankton."
— New York Times Book Review
"Mr. Winchester -- a trained geologist and inveterate globetrotter -- is well suited to tell the story. And he tells it with the sort of panache that he has brought to previous books, such as Krakatoa, about the volcanic disaster of 1883, and The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary . . . His lively, lyrical telling of the ocean's story does much to sharpen our appreciation."
— Wall Street Journal
"A rollicking ride . . . No one tells a better yarn than Winchester."
— Washington Post
"Winchester vividly describes how the Atlantic Ocean was born about 190 million years ago, continues to spread at the rate of about an inch a year and could well disappear as we know it in just another 180 million years . . . Delightful."
— USA Today
"Convincing . . . A fascinating look at a long sweep of history."
— Los Angeles Times
"Simon Winchester . . . is . . . brilliant. To read Winchester is to share the excitement of his travels and adventures . . . Atlantic is a mine of fascinating information and ideas both small and colossal."
— Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books
"Atlantic . . . is at once satisying, suspenseful (no mean trick on the subject of an ocean), thought-provoking, occasionally funny, and always absorbing. So big a subject as the Atlantic Ocean requires a certain largeness of spirit, and amplitude of descriptive power, and Simon Winchester is gloriously up to the task."
— Daily Beast
"Telling the story of 'the classic ocean of our imaginings' is a huge undertaking but Simon Winchester manages it with aplomb."
— The Economist
"A formidable writer and storyteller."
— Entertainment Weekly
Praise for The Man Who Loved China:
“In The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, builds on his success in writing about eccentric British intellectuals. Needham makes a great subject. . . Winchester [has] extraordinary narrative skills. . . In retelling Needham’s story, Winchester focuses on the inventiveness of the Chinese people, whose creativity once surpassed that of all other civilizations. If this resourcefulness can be renewed and harnessed in the service of sustainability, then perhaps there is hope not only for China but for the planet.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Needham lived a life of grand adventure, and Winchester presents its dangers and pleasures with panache . . . . the exhilaration of [Needham’s] life is immediately engaging. And so are the colorful characters who come his way.”
—New York Times Book Review
“A revealing biography. . . a natural fit for Winchester. . . a vivid portrayal that enlivens the ranks of the science biography. . . Needham’s voyages form a cinematic travelogue at the heart of the book, as he roams from the East China Sea to the Silk Road hunting for clues to the country’s technological past . . . Winchester successfully depicts Needham as a complex and driven man, with enviably diverse talents, boundless curiosity, charm, and a few foibles. . . The Man Who Loved China should stir our interest in China’s glorious past.”
“If you get into a conversation in a bar with Mr. Winchester, I suspect you’ll be there past closing. . . Captivating. . . Fans of Mr. Winchester know that he can make the most obsure topic seem as if it should be on the front page.”
—Wall Street Journal
“[A] skilled storyteller. . . What a story it turns out to be. The Man Who Loved China is a charming literary and cultural adventure that captures the unadorned brilliance and infectious enthusiasm of this remarkable man, with his outsized intellectual ambition and his endearing zest for life. . . Winchester is an engaging writer and brisk storyteller.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Because Winchester is such a fantastic storyteller, you emerge with a clearer picture of a mysterious country.”
“Neeham’s story is phenomenal. . . The man was fearless in love and life. . . [Winchester] skillfully keep[s] his narrative from bogging down. . . leav[es] readers crying out ‘more, more.’”
“There’s a brilliance to the title of Winchester’s biography because even as it implies that this one man may have loved the civilization to an extent greater than the vast majority of the rest of us, the words still strike a chord with anyone who has been bitten by the Asia bug. . . There is much to learn from The Man Who Loved China, an enjoyable, breezy read.”
“Needham, a brilliant Cambridge don, was. . . the man who dragged China’s reputation in the West from the dustbin. . . Winchester does a lively job of helping readers to see the China that so entranced Needham. He also re-creates the fury with which the ever-curious Needham tore through the Chinese countryside, exploring the Chinese origin of everything from the orange to the magnetic compass. The more he learned, the more awed Needham was by the depth and breadth of early Chinese ingenuity. . . With all eyes turned to China this summer, those interested in the achievements of the Olympics’ behemoth host will do well to take a tour with this remarkable guide.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“A masterful biography . . . Winchester deftly captures his complex personality, a romantic adventurer propelled by intellectual curiosity . . . Winchester has brought Needham vividly to life.”
“As he so ably did in The Professor and the Madman, Winchester strips away the donnish placidity of English university life in The Man Who Loved China to reveal a remarkable set of characters, none more so than Needham himself. . . This is a wonderfully entertaining book. . . Winchester deftly probes the nexus of the public and private facets of one of scholarship’s most profound minds and eccentric personalities. Few biographers have had better material or so skillfully given it its due.”
“Joseph Needham was one of those rare persons who are so good at so many things that they astonish and irritate the rest of us. . . Happily for Winchester and his readers, Needham’s life was a great deal more than scholarly.”
“The spellbinding storyteller unravels the history of China through the life of Cambridge scientist Jacob Needham.”
—New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Simon Winchester, a masterly storyteller, follows Needham on 11 expeditions across 30,000 miles of rugged, war-torn terrain in a “damp, damnable” Chevrolet truck, as he searches for the Chinese origin of almost everything, from the abacus to the zoetrope. The author of 19 books, including The Professor and the Madman, an account of the men behind the Oxford English Dictionary, Winchester specializes in eccentric, obsessive geniuses. With Joseph Needham, he’s found another splendid specimen.”
—The Oregonian (Portland)
“[A] fascinating read, filled with expeditions across war-ravaged China, harrowing escapes from the Japanese army, more than a few amorous adventures, and path-breaking scholarship undertaken within the ancient rooms of Cambridge University. . . Winchester’s smart biography does more than tell the story of Needham and his great book. Perhaps most significantly, Winchester opens up a window into China’s past.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“Winchester, so skilled at making the triumphs, tragedies and details of real life read like an engaging novel, portrays a Needham who lives up to the eccentric billing of the title. Still, Winchester’s primary purpose – which he achieves as well as you’d expect from this master research – is to depict meticulously a Needham whose work answered important questions. . . Just as Needham unlocked the mysteries of China’s role in science, Winchester has unlocked the mysteries of Needham. They’re mysteries worth reading.”