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The Unanticipated Pleasures of the Writing Life

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  • UserSimon Winchester, Author of 'The Map that Changed the World'
  • ClockFriday 08 February 2008, 17:30-18:30
  • HouseLMH, Lady Mitchell Hall.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Janet Gibson.

Simon Winchester will be talking about the serendipitous events that led him from his early career in geology to his more conspicuous and successful life in writing. This change of path came about through what he says were entirely propitious happenings, which along with the unexpected – which he promises too – constitute the core of serendipity.


Simon Winchester, author, journalist, and broadcaster, has worked as a foreign correspondent for most of his career so far, although he graduated from Oxford in 1966 with a degree in geology and 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.His journalistic work, mainly for The Guardian and The Sunday Times, has based him in Belfast, Washington, DC, New Delhi, and 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, and 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. He has been a freelance writer since 1987.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, The 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 also lectures widely – most recently before London’s Royal Geographical Society (of which he is a Fellow) – and to audiences aboard the cruise liners QE2 and Seabourn Pride. His books cover a wide range of subjects, including a study of the remaining British Empire, the colonial architecture of India, aristocracy, the American Midwest, his experience of the months in an Argentine prison on spying charges, his description of a six-month walk through the Korean peninsula, the Pacific Ocean and the future of China. Most recently he has written The River at the Center of the World, about China’s Yangtze River; the best-selling The Professor and the Madman, which is to be made into a major film by the distinguished French director Luc Besson; The Fracture Zone; A Return to the Balkans, which recounts his journey from Austria to Turkey during the 1999 Kosovo crisis; and the best-selling The Map that Changed the World, about the nineteenth century geologist William Smith. His book, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 was published in April 2003. His latest book, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 was published in the fall of 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers. Simon Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He received the honor in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Simon Winchester lives on a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and in New York City.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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