Patrick French

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Patrick French in an aeroplane

Patrick French (born 1966) is a British writer, historian and academician. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh where he studied English and American literature,[1] and received a PhD in South Asian Studies. He was appointed as the inaugural Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University in July 2017.

French is the author of several books including: Younghusband: the Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), a biography of Francis Younghusband; The World Is What It Is (2008), an authorised biography of Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the United States of America;[2] and India: A Portrait (2011).

During the 1992 general election, French was a Green Party candidate for Parliament. He has sat on the executive committee of Free Tibet, a Tibet Support Group UK, and was a founding member of the inter-governmental India-UK Round Table.[3][failed verification]

Books and awards[edit]

At the age of 25, French set off on a trail across Central Asia to retrace the steps of British explorer Francis Younghusband. This resulted in the publication of his first book, Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer in 1994.[4] The book went on to win both the Somerset Maugham Award[5] and the Royal Society of Literature's W. H. Heinemann Prize.

French's next book, Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division was published in 1997 and earned the author accolades and brickbats in equal parts. Described in the Indian media as presenting a "revisionist view" of Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah's role in the Indian Independence movement,[6] there were a few calls to ban the book in India. On the other hand, Philip Ziegler hailed it as "a remarkable achievement,"[7] and Khushwant Singh described the author as "a first rate historian and storyteller." The book sold heavily due to the controversy and French was awarded the Sunday Times Young Author of the Year award for the book.[8]

Published in 2003, Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land was French’s third book. According to the author’s own accounts, his interest in Tibet was triggered by a meeting he had with the Dalai Lama when he was 16. The book though emerged from "a gradual nervousness that the western idea of Tibet, particularly the views of Tibet campaigners, was becoming too detached from the reality of what Tibet was like. So I did a long journey through Tibet in 1999."[9] The Independent described the book as "intelligent as well as passionate in its approach."[10] Pico Iyer in The Los Angeles Times book review described French as a "scrupulous and disciplined writer" who "has a decided gift for inspired and heartfelt research and a knack for coming upon overlooked details that are worth several volumes of analysis."[11]

The World Is What It Is, an authorised biography of Nobel Prize–winning author V. S. Naipaul was published in 2008. In the New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma described French as the inventor of a new genre, "the confessional biography."[12] The book was selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the "10 Best books of 2008."[13] In 2008, The World Is What It Is was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award[14] in America, and was also short listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.[15] French was also awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 2009 for the book.[16]

In 2011, Patrick released his book India: A Portrait, billed as "an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people". The book is a narrative of the social and economic revolutions that are transforming India. As part of the book release, he also started an India focused website called The India Site.[17]

Patrick is currently working on the authorised biography of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing.[18]

Personal life[edit]

He is married to Meru Gokhale, currently the Editor in Chief at Penguin Random House India, and the daughter of author and publisher Namita Gokhale. He was married once before.


In 2003, French was offered and declined the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[19]



  1. ^ "Publisher-supplied biographical information about contributor(s) for Library of Congress control number 2002043432". Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  2. ^ "Patrick French | Penguin Random House". Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  3. ^ "Patrick French Books - Biography and List of Works - Author of 'Dreams and Memories Of a Lost Land'". Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  4. ^ An Impulsive Imperial Soldier Who Turned Guru The New York Times. 15 November 1995.
  5. ^ [1] Archived 4 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Gandhi was a wily politician, Jinnah remained a secularist till death Outlook Magazine. 6 August 1997
  7. ^ French, Patrick (1998). Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division: Patrick French. ISBN 0006550452.
  8. ^ [2] Archived 16 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Interview: Nandini Lal on Patrick French Archived 22 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine Outlook Magazine. 10 March 2003.
  10. ^ Book Review: Tibet, Tibet, A Personal History Of A Lost Land The Independent. 12 April 2003.
  11. ^ Himalayan Descent The Los Angeles Times. 19 October 2003
  12. ^ The Lessons of the Master The New York Review of Books. 20 November 2008.
  13. ^ The ten best books of 2008 The New York Times. 3 December 2008.
  14. ^ "National Book Critics Circle: awards". Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  15. ^ "BBC iPlayer - BBC Four". Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Patrick French awarded literary prize". Archived from the original on 27 September 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2009.
  17. ^ "INDIA: A PORTRAIT | The India Site | Dishing up Indian news and non aligned views | India: A Portrait by Patrick French". 19 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  18. ^ "Patrick French – CRASSH". 14 January 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  19. ^ Soutik Biswas (6 October 2003). "South Asia | Naipaul biographer refuses OBE". Retrieved 13 May 2015.

External links[edit]

Appearance on The Filter Podcast