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James McDonald (writer)

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James McDonald
James McDonald

Bexleyheath, England
Occupation(s)Writer, historian, mathematician
Known forScholarly yet entertaining writing

James McDonald is a British polymath: mathematician, etymologist, historian, theologian and non-fiction writer.[1][2][3]

He writes on a range of topics including Gnostic Dualism, the Cathars of the Languedoc and their theology, the Counts of Toulouse, Occitania, Medieval warfare and the Medieval Inquisition. His work is characterised by combining serious scholarship with an entertaining style.[4][5] Something of a polymath, he has also written on subjects as diverse as computer simulation, mathematical problems, philosophy, etymology and comparative philology. For several years he wrote a weekly column on English word origins for the Sunday Express, a national newspaper in the UK.[6]

He has travelled extensively in Central Asia and Southern Asia, researching Zoroastrianism and other ancient religions. According to his publishers his book Beyond Belief took over 20 years of research, including an overland expedition from Europe to South and Central Asia, retracing the journeys of Alexander the Great, Robert Byron and Eric Newby. This research took him to sites including Medjugorje in Herzegovina; traditional Bogomil sites in the Balkans, early Christian sites across Turkey, the Mountains of Ararat near the border with Iran, Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, Chak Chak and other Zoroastrian centres in Iran, Christian churches in Pakistan, Parsee temples in Mumbi, the Syrian Churches of Kerala, the Roza Bal shrine at Srinagar in Kashmir; Lumbini in the Rupandehi district of Nepal; early Buddhist sites along the Karakorum Highway, and historic religious sites of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

English Coat of arms of James McDonald of Goxhill[7]

He was educated in the UK at University College, Oxford, and at Sussex and Nottingham Universities. He holds an MA in mathematics from Oxford University, an MSc in Operational Research from Sussex University and an MA in history and theology from the Nottingham University.[8] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1990. He is a life member of Humanists UK. His biography in the 5th edition of his book Voltaire on the Cathars notes that he is one of a small but growing number of atheist theologians.

He is the châtelain of the Château Saint-Ferriol, a late medieval - early Renaissance castle, in the village and commune of Saint-Ferriol, in the Aude département in the South of France which is listed as a Monument Historique by the French Government.[9]


  • Wordly Wise, on comparative philology, published by Constable (now Constable & Robinson) (UK) and Franklin Watts (USA),[10][11][12][13][14]
  • A Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo, on etymology, published by Sphere (Little, Brown and Company) and reprinted by Wordsworth (UK & USA)[15][16]
  • Solving Business Problems using Simulation, published by McGraw Hill (UK & USA)[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]
  • Beyond Belief, on the History of Christianity, Published by Garnet Publishers[24][25][26]
  • Voltaire on the Cathars, an annotated translation of Voltaire's Essai sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations, ch LXII, (1756), ISBN 978-1795075367, the 5th Edition of On The Crusade against the people of the Languedoc,[27]
  • Bones of Contention: The improbable history of the remains of Saint Edmund (Academy of Cathar Historical Studies - Monographs), 2020, an historical investigation into the fate of the remains of King Edmund and those of three medieval inquisitors ISBN 979-8602990225
  • Kill Them All: Did a Medieval Abbot give this Command to his Troops (Academy of Cathar Historical Studies - Monographs), 2020, ISBN 979-8607444303. An account of the massacre at Béziers by a Catholic army led by a Cistercian abbot in 1209. It is a detailed analysis of the arguments for and against the Abbot having given the order "Kill them all ..." as recorded by the Cistercian chronicler Caesarius of Heisterbach.


  1. ^ Cappon, Elizabeth (16 May 1985). "Word-watchers Will Enjoy Wordly Wise". Daily News. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  2. ^ Donald, Graeme (October 2008). Fighting Talk. Osprey Publishing. p. 155. ISBN 9781846034558.
  3. ^ Safire, William (2011). Language maven strikes again. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 134. ISBN 9780307800589.
  4. ^ "combines scholarship with entertaining writing", von Schon, Catherine V.; Fletcher, Janet; Fialkoff, Francine; Schwarzer, Anneliese; Sutton, Judith; Cameron, Janet // Library Journal; 4 January 1985, Vol. 110 Issue 6, p142 [1]
  5. ^ "lively and readable" Kingsley Amis, Literary Review, January 1985
  6. ^ Sunday Express, passim 1984, 1985, 1986
  7. ^ "International Heraldry Examples of Coats of Arms".
  8. ^ McDonald, James. "(PDF) On Christian Initiation | James McDonald - Academia.edu".
  9. ^ Base Mérimée: Saint-Ferriol: Château, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)
  10. ^ "CB&M Useful reference books and articles".
  11. ^ cited by Oxford Journals, Humanities, Year's Work in English Studies, Volume 65, Issue 1 Pp. 24–66.
  12. ^ cited by Journal of Reading, Vol. 29, No. 6 (Mar. 1986), pp. 562–567 www.jstor.org/stable/40032761 retrieved 10 June 2012
  13. ^ National Library of Australia's online catalogue http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/1557119 retrieved 10 June 2012
  14. ^ Reviewed by Fred F. Holley, Los Angeles Times http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-12/books/bk-18614_1_james-mcdonald, retrieved 10 June 2012, Orlando sentinel http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1985-09-02/news/0320400152_1_tommyrot-codswallop-archaeopteryx (retrieved 10 June 2012) & Chicago Tribune, 4 September 1985, New York Times News Service.
  15. ^ cited by Timothy Jay, The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words, Perspectives on Psychological Science March 2009 vol. 4 no. 2 153–161
  16. ^ cited by Kerry Linfoot-Ham, The Linguistics of Euphemism: A Diachronic Study of Euphemism Formation, Journal of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 4 No. 2, 2005, ISSN 1475-8989. Kerry Linfoot-Ham University of Florida, USA
  17. ^ ACM Digital Library http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=576026 retrieved 10 June 2012
  18. ^ cited by Ruth M. Davies, Robert M. O'Keefe, Huw T. O. Davies, Simplifying the modeling of multiple activities, multiple queuing, and interruptions: a new low-level data structure, ACM Transactions on Modeling and Computer Simulation (TOMACS), v.3 n.4, p.332-346, Oct. 1993
  19. ^ cited by Mike Pidd, Model development and HCI, Proceedings of the 28th conference on Winter simulation, p.681-686, 8–11 December 1996, Coronado, California, United States
  20. ^ cited by Vlatko Čeric, Hierarchical abilities of diagrammatic representations of discrete event simulation models, Proceedings of the 26th conference on Winter simulation, p.589-594, 11–14 December 1994, Orlando, Florida, United States
  21. ^ cited by Michael Pidd, An introduction to computer simulation, Proceedings of the 26th conference on Winter simulation, p.7-14, 11–14 December 1994, Orlando, Florida, United States
  22. ^ cited by Yogesh L. Deshpande, Roger Jenkins, Simon Taylor, Use of simulation to test client-server models, Proceedings of the 28th conference on Winter simulation, p.1210-1217, 8–11 December 1996, Coronado, California, United States
  23. ^ cited by Stewart Robinson, Three sources of simulation inaccuracy (and how to overcome them), Proceedings of the 31st conference on Winter simulation: Simulation—a bridge to the future, p.1701-1708, 5–8 December 1999, Phoenix, Arizona, United States
  24. ^ "Beyond Belief". 19 October 2015.
  25. ^ "- YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  26. ^ Eller, Jack David, Review of Beyond Belief. Anthropology Review Database 27 January 2012. http://wings.buffalo.edu/ARD/cgi/showme.cgi?keycode=4345, accessed 10 June 2012.
  27. ^ "ESSAI SUR LES MŒURS ET L'ESPRIT DES NATIONS" (PDF). classiques.uqac.ca. Retrieved 31 January 2020.