From Madmen To Land: a Conversation With Simon Winchester
Hearing Simon Winchester speak is like spending time with one of the most fascinating dinner guests you’ve ever hosted, one your friends would beg you to invite back again and again. The author of such bestselling books as The Man Who Loved China, Krakatoa, The Professor and the Madman and his latest, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, Winchester’s presentations are a fascinating blend of people, history, personal stories, language, travel, science and amazing information about the planet we live on. Winchester offers a vast range of speech topics, tailored for your audience, all told with his lively English humor and skills as a superb storyteller who can make any subject come to life. To hear him speak is to understand the world in a whole new way, one that is suddenly more relevant and more connected. “There is, deep down, an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things,” he says. Winchester delivers this in abundance, to the delight of audiences worldwide.
Simon Winchester, bestselling 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. His current book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, explores the notion of property—bought, earned, or received; in Europe, Africa, North America, or the South Pacific—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future.
The author of 30 books, Winchester specializes in eccentric, obsessive geniuses. In The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, Winchester traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age to explore the single component crucial to advancement—precision—in a superb history that is both an homage and a warning for our future. The New York Times bestseller The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, is 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.
Simon Winchester's many books include Pacific, The Men Who United the States and Atlantic, as well as the New York Times bestsellers 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 has also penned books for young adults, The Alice Behind Wonderland and When the Earth Shakes. He is praised for his skills as a masterful and riveting storyteller both on the page and in lectures.
Winchester writes and presents television films on a variety of historical topics and is a frequent contributor to BBC radio. Yet, the self-described "traditionalist who loves fine paper and ink" has written his first book entirely for a digital medium, an interactive app for the iPad called Skulls, published by Touch Press and available on the App Store. "The app is a wonderful way of exploring the skull in human culture and as a symbol," Winchester says.
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.
While studying at Oxford, he became involved in the University Exploration Club, and was the member of a six-man sledding expedition onto an uncharted section of the East Greenland ice-cap in 1965. 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, The New 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 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) ‘for services to journalism and literature’ in the New Year Honours list for 2006. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, in October 2009.
Simon Winchester, who is married to the former NPR producer Setsuko Sato, lives in New York City and on a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His interests include letterpress printing, bee-keeping, astronomy, stamp-collecting, model railways and cider-making.