Neal Ascherson

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Appearing on television discussion programme After Dark in 1987

Charles Neal Ascherson (born 5 October 1932) is a Scottish journalist and writer. He has been described by Radio Prague as "one of Britain's leading experts on central and eastern Europe".[1] Ascherson is the author of several books on the history of Poland and Ukraine. His work has appeared in The Guardian and The New York Review of Books.


Ascherson was born in Edinburgh on 5 October 1932,[2] son of a Naval officer of Jewish ancestry and a mother from a London family of Scottish descent; his elder half-sister (by his father's first marriage) was the artist Pamela Ascherson.[3] He was awarded a scholarship to Eton.[4] Before going to university, he did his National Service as an officer in the Royal Marines, serving from July 1951[5] to September 1952,[6] and seeing combat in Malaya.[4] He then attended King's College, Cambridge, where he read history.[4] The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm was his tutor at Cambridge and described Ascherson as "perhaps the most brilliant student I ever had. I didn't really teach him much, I just let him get on with it."[2]


After graduating Ascherson declined offers to pursue an academic career.[2] Instead, he chose a career in journalism, first at The Manchester Guardian and then at The Scotsman (1959–60; 1975–79), The Observer (1960–75; 1979–90) and The Independent on Sunday (1990–98).[4] He contributed scripts for the documentary series The World at War (1973–74) and the Cold War (1998). He has also been a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.[4]

Ascherson has occasionally been actively involved in politics. In 1976, while working as the Scottish political correspondent for The Scotsman, he joined the newly-founded Scottish Labour Party (SLP), a breakaway faction which was led out of the UK Labour Party by the MP Jim Sillars following disagreements over the party's policy on Scottish devolution. Ascherson, like Sillars an enthusiastic supporter of maximalist 'Home Rule', provided much favourable coverage of the new party, but the SLP was riven by internal dissension and was wound up after the 1979 general election.[7][8] Twenty years later, in the first election for the Scottish Parliament, he stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the West Renfrewshire constituency but was not successful.[9] Ascherson supported the "Yes" (pro-independence) campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.[10]

Ascherson has also lectured and written extensively about Polish and Eastern Europe affairs.[1][11]As of 2016 he is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.[12][4] He has been editor of Public Archaeology, an academic journal associated with UCL devoted to CRM and public archaeology issues and developments, since its inception in 1999.[13]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1991 Ascherson was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.[14] In 2011 he was elected Honorary Fellow [15] of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Personal life[edit]

Neal Ascherson's first wife was journalist Corinna Adam; the couple first met at Cambridge University and married in 1958. They had two daughters together before separating in 1974. The couple divorced in 1982.[16] Corinna Ascherson, also a journalist, died in March 2012.[16][17]

In 1984, he married his second wife, journalist Isabel Hilton.[2] The couple currently live in London and have two children.

His aunt was the actress Renée Asherson.[18]


  • Ascherson, Neal (1963). The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo. ISBN 1-86207-290-6.
  • Ascherson, Neal (1981). The Polish August: The Self-limiting Revolution. ISBN 0-670-56305-6.
  • Ascherson, Neal (1982). The Book of Lech Wałęsa. ISBN 0-671-45684-9.
  • The Spanish Civil War (Granada Television serial script, 1983)
  • Linklater, Magnus; Hilton, Isabel; Ascherson, Neal (1984). The Nazi Legacy. ISBN 0-03-069303-9. with Magnus Linklater and Isabel Hilton
  • Ascherson, Neal (1987). The Struggles For Poland. ISBN 0-7181-2812-5.
  • Ascherson, Neal (1988). Games With Shadows. ISBN 0-09-173019-8.
  • Ascherson, Neal (1995). Black Sea. ISBN 0-8090-3043-8.
  • Ascherson, Neal (2002). Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland. ISBN 0-8090-8491-0.
  • Opposition to Turkey's Ilisu Dam rises again with Maggie Ronayne, published 27 November 2007, chinadialogue
  • Ascherson, Neal (2017). Death of the Fronsac: A Novel. ISBN 978-1786694379.
  • "A Mess of Tiny Principalities" (review of Simon Winder, Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe's Lost Country, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019, 504 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXVI, no. 20 (19 December 2019), pp. 66–68.


  1. ^ a b "UK writer Neal Ascherson discusses NATO, EU on Prague visit". Radio Prague. 2004. Retrieved 13 May 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d Wroe, Nicholas (12 April 2003). "Romantic nationalist". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Interview of Neal Ascherson – December 2016". Archived from the original on 19 December 2021 – via
  4. ^ a b c d e f "The SRB Interview: Neal Ascherson", Scottish Review of Books, Musselburgh, Scotland, 3 August 2014, retrieved 26 January 2017
  5. ^ "No. 39293". The London Gazette. 24 July 1951. p. 3994.
  6. ^ "No. 39657". The London Gazette. 30 September 1952. p. 5149.
  7. ^ Jackson, Ben, The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 101.
  8. ^ Drucker, H. M., Breakaway: The Scottish Labour Party (Edinburgh: EUSPB, 1978), pp. 104, 108.
  9. ^ "Vote 99: Scotland Constituencies & Regions. Renfrewshire West". BBC News. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  10. ^ Ascherson, Neal (18 July 2014). "Scottish Independence Is Inevitable". New York Times. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  11. ^ "Neal Ascherson – fascinating memories of the Soviet invasion and much more". Radio Prague. 2004. Retrieved 8 June 2004.
  12. ^ "People: Staff: Honorary". Our Staff. UCL Institute of Archaeology. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  13. ^ Carman, John (2002). Archaeology and Heritage: An Introduction. London and New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-5894-7. OCLC 48140490.
  14. ^ "Neal Ascherson books – Folio Biography". The Folio Society. Archived from the original on 11 November 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  15. ^ "Honorary Fellows". Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  16. ^ a b "Corinna Ascherson". The Times. 29 March 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015. (subscription required)
  17. ^ Pavan Amara "Rhyl Street flat blaze victim, Corinna Ascherson, an idealistic socialist once one half of ‘journalism’s golden couple’" Archived 8 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Camden New Journal, 15 March 2012
  18. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (6 October 2014). "Obituary: Renée Asherson, actress". The Scotsman. Retrieved 5 January 2015.

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