Rory MacLean (born 1954) is a British-Canadian travel writer who lives and works in Berlin and the United Kingdom. His best known works are Stalin’s Nose, a travelogue through eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall; Magic Bus, a history of the Asia Overland hippie trail; and Berlin: Imagine a City, a portrait of that city over 500 years.
MacLean was born in Vancouver and grew up in Toronto, graduating from Upper Canada College and Ryerson University. For ten years he made movies with moderate success, working with David Hemmings and Ken Russell in England, David Bowie in Berlin and Marlene Dietrich in Paris. In 1989 he won The Independent inaugural travel writing competition and changed from screen to prose writing. After completing nine travel books in the UK he wrote Berlin: Imagine a City in the capital where he blogged for the Meet the Germans website of the Goethe-Institut. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
MacLean’s first book, Stalin's Nose (1992), told the story of a journey from Berlin to Moscow in a Trabant and became a UK top ten best-seller, winning the Yorkshire Post's Best First Work prize. William Dalrymple called it, "the most extraordinary debut in travel writing since Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia". Colin Thubron considered the book to be a "surreal masterpiece".
His second book The Oatmeal Ark (1997) followed, exploring immigrant dreams from Scotland and across Canada and inspiring John Fowles to write, "Such a book as this rather marvellously explains why literature still lives". It was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Then, when the chance arose to meet the Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, MacLean travelled to Burma. Under the Dragon (1998) told the story of that country and won an Arts Council of England Writers' Award in 1997.
In Falling for Icarus (2004), MacLean moved to Crete to hand build—and fly once—a flying machine to come to terms with the death of his mother and to examine the relevance of Greek mythology to modern lives. "An extraordinary work, curious and entertaining, tantalizing, often moving and above all entirely original -- like everything MacLean writes, it's in a genre of its own,' wrote Jan Morris. In his book Magic Bus (2006), Maclean followed the many young Western people who in the 1960s and 1970s blazed the 'hippie trail' from Istanbul to India. His seventh book Missing Lives (with photographer Nick Danziger) (2010) told the stories of fifteen people who went missing during the Yugoslav wars. His tenth book Berlin: Imagine a City (2014) is a creative non-fiction history of the German capital and "the most extraordinary work of history I’ve ever read", according to Gerard De Groot in the Washington Post.
According to the Financial Times, MacLean "is expanding the boundaries of travel writing by trampling the borders between fact and fiction". Colin Thubron writes that his distinctive work is in a literary genre of his own, a "hyper-real world" not of travelogue or literal reality but of intense distillation of a journey. Robert Macfarlane professes that "there is, to my mind, no one who writes quite like Rory MacLean. If I were forced to reach for a comparison, I would pause over Bruce Chatwin as a possibility, but then probably stretch far, further back: to John Mandeville, to St Brendan and to Marco Polo. These men made their 'wonder-voyages' and returned bearing tales that were not to be submitted to the usual tests of verifiability and falsifiability, but in which the actual and the miraculous rubbed shoulders, and in which genres and forms promiscuously coupled and bred. They told piebald, pidgin, patchwork, mongrel stories, then: but books whose unreliability was not mere whimsy, but aspired to a different kind of truth-telling. They sought, in their inventiveness, to pattern reality into a greater clarity."
- Stalin’s Nose (1992)
- The Oatmeal Ark (1997)
- Under the Dragon (1998)
- Next Exit Magic Kingdom (2000)
- Falling for Icarus (2004)
- Magic Bus (2006)
- Missing Lives (2010)
- Gift of Time (2011)
- Back in the USSR: Heroic Adventures in Transnistria (2014)
- Berlin: Imagine a City (2014)
- LCCN 2009-292442
- William Dalrymple, in the first edition of Stalin’s Nose (HarperCollins, London 1992)
- Colin Thubron, in his Introduction to a new edition of Stalin’s Nose (Tauris Parke, London, 2008)
- John Fowles, Taking Ghosts, The Spectator (London) 12 April 1997 p.37
- Falling for Icarus (Tauris Parke, London, 2011)
- Jan Morris, Falling for Icarus (Viking, London, 2004) and Books of the Year, The Spectator (London) 20 November 2004 p.39
- Gerard De Groot, Three Books on Berlin, Washington Post 31 October 2014
- Michael Thompson-Noel, Time Travel at its Best, Financial Times (London) 22 March 1997 p. 34
- Robert Macfarlane, in his Introduction to a new edition of Falling for Icarus (Tauris Parke, London, 2011)