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In 2008, The Times ranked him 45th on their list of the 50 greatest postwar British writers. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Thubron was appointed a CBE in the 2007 New Year Honours. He is a Fellow and, as of 2010[update], President of the Royal Society of Literature.
Thubron is the son of Brigadier Gerald Thubron and of Evelyn (née Dryden), a collateral descendant of the poet John Dryden and of Samuel Finley Morse, inventor of the Morse Code. He was born in London and educated at Eton College. Before becoming a writer he worked for five years in publishing in London and New York City, and made independent documentary films that were shown on BBC television. He is married to the Shakespeare scholar, Margreta de Grazia. His adoptive sister is Sarah Thubron, whom his parents adopted at age 5. Her biological father is Rod Stewart, the Scottish singer.
The Middle East
Thubron's first travel book, Mirror to Damascus, was published in 1967, the first such book on the city for a century. It was followed the next year by The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon, a lyrical account of a journey through the country, pre-civil war, and the next year by Jerusalem. While starting a parallel career as a novelist, he completed a travel book on Cyprus, Journey into Cyprus, in 1974, just before Turkey invaded the island.
Russia and the farther East
In 1981, during the Brezhnev era, Thubron broke with his earlier work (on cities and small countries) and travelled by car into the Soviet Union, a journey recorded in Among the Russians. This was followed in 1987 by Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China (winner of the Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award), and in 1994 by The Lost Heart of Asia, the record of a journey through the newly independent nations of Central Asia. In 1999 came In Siberia,(Prix Bouvier, France), an exploration of the farthest reaches of the ex-Soviet Union, and in 2007 perhaps his most ambitious book to date, Shadow of the Silk Road. This 7,000-mile journey from China to the Mediterranean encompasses cultures that have obsessed his working life: Islam, China, the old Soviet Union, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey.
In many ways Thubron's work harks back to an earlier age of travel writing. He is one of the last of the 'gentleman-travellers' – Eton-educated, erudite and willing to immerse himself in the countries in question for a long period of time. His journeys are tough and occasionally dangerous. But he is distinctive for his attention to languages, and his sympathetic encounters with local people.
Most of Thubron's novels are notably different from his travel books. Several describe settings of enforced immobility: a mental hospital, a prison, an amnesiac's mind. Notable among them are Emperor (1978), a study of the conversion of Constantine, A Cruel Madness (winner of the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award), and Falling (1989). Others, however, use travel or a fictional abroad: Turning Back the Sun (1991) and an imaginary journey to Vilcabamba in Peru: To the Last City (2002), long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It has been described as a "Heart of Darkness narrative" in a "Marquezian setting". His most recent novel, "Night of Fire", is his most ambitious: a multi-layered study of time and memory, which several reviewers named his masterpiece.
Thubron says that he was influenced by Palgrave's Golden Treasury as a schoolboy, and was initially inspired by the travel writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris and Freya Stark. He admires the English novelist William Golding and chose Victor Gollancz's anthology A Year of Grace as his book for Desert Island Discs.
- Mirror to Damascus – Heinemann, 1967
- The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon – Heinemann, 1968
- Jerusalem – Heinemann, 1969
- Journey into Cyprus – Heinemann, 1975
- Jerusalem – Time-Life, 1976
- Istanbul – Time-Life, 1978
- The Venetians – Time-Life, 1980
- The Ancient Mariners – Time-Life, 1981
- The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – Hamish Hamilton, 1982
- Among the Russians – Heinemann, 1983
- Behind the Wall: A Journey through China – Heinemann, 1987
- The Silk Road: Beyond the Celestial Kingdom – Simon & Schuster, 1989
- The Lost Heart of Asia – Heinemann, 1994
- In Siberia – Chatto & Windus, 1999
- Shadow of the Silk Road, Chatto & Windus, 2006
- foreword: Views from Abroad: The Spectator Book of Travel Writing, edited by Philip Marsden-Smedley & Jeffrey Klinke – Grafton, 1988
- foreword: The Lycian Shore by Freya Stark – John Murray, 2002
- foreword: The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron – Penguin, 2007
- foreword: Stalin's Nose – by Rory MacLean – Tauris Parke, 2008
- foreword: The Travels of Marco Polo – Everyman, 2008
- To a Mountain in Tibet, Chatto & Windus, 2011
- The God in the Mountain - Heinemann, 1977
- Emperor – Heinemann, 1978
- A Cruel Madness – Heinemann, 1984
- Falling – Heinemann, 1989
- Turning Back the Sun – Heinemann, 1991
- Distance – Heinemann, 1996
- To the Last City – Chatto & Windus, 2002
- Night of Fire - Chatto & Windus, 2016
Radio adaptations, stage and television
- Emperor - BBC Radio 4, September 1984, with Martin Jarvis as Constantine and Juliet Stevenson as Fausta.
- Great Journeys: The Silk Road – BBC 2 Television, presenter, 1989
- The Prince of the Pagodas - ballet scenario, the Royal Opera House, 1989, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan
- A Cruel Madness – BBC Radio 4, May 1992, with Robert Glenister as Pashley and Harriet Walter as Sophia
- The South Bank Show – Time seen as a Road, on Colin Thubron, ITV television, 1992'
Prizes and awards
- 1967 Book Society Choice, Mirror to Damascus
- 1985 PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, A Cruel Madness
- 1988 Hawthornden Prize, Behind the Wall: A journey through China
- 1988 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, Behind the Wall: A Journey through China
- 1991 Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
- 2000 Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society 
- 2001 Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs
- 2002 Hon.D Lit University of Warwick
- 2003-9 Vice-President, The Royal Society of Literature
- 2007 Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), New Year's Honours
- 2008 Society of Authors Travel Award
- 2009– President, The Royal Society of Literature
- 2010 Prix Bouvier, France, In Siberia
- 2011 Ness Award of the Royal Geographical Society
- 2014 International Prize, Spanish Geographical Society
- "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- , New York Review of Books,
- "The Royal Society of Literature". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- "Mirror to Damascus". WorldCat. 2010. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- Hawthornden Prize Hawthornden Prize
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 31 August 2005. Retrieved 2015-01-04. Thomas Cook Travel Book Award
-  In Siberia
- ,(Prix Bouvier, France), Independent review: Shadow of the Silk Road.
- on YouTube.
-  Silver Pen Award.
- McCrum, Robert (28 July 2002). "Back to the heart of darkness". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- Wroe, Nicholas (9 September 2006) "On the road again". The Guardian
- Desert Island Discs archive BBC Radio – Desert Island Discs microsite
- , Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
- , Royal Society for Asian Affairs.
- , Warwick University
- , Prix Nicholas Bouvier
- Thubron author page and archive from The New York Review of Books
- Susan Bassnett: Interview with Colin Thubron, Studies in Travel Writing, No 3, 1999
- Interview: The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/sep/23/travel.travelbooks
- Overview: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth117
- Interview: The Independent: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-5039074.html
- Interview:http://www.bookrags.com/ColinThubron – United States
- The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing ed. Hulme and Youngs, CUP, 2002, pp. 95–6
- Interview: The Sunday Times: http://www.accessinterviews.com/interviews/detail/colin-thubron/4256
- The New York Review of Books: The Amazing Wanderer: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/dec/20/the-amazing-wanderer/
- Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/books/review/Adams.html
- The Times: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article3127347.ece
- Interview: ''The Geographical Magazine: http://geographical.co.uk/Magazine/People/Colin_Thubron_-_May_2007.html
- Debrett's People of Today