Philip Marsden

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Philip Marsden also known as Philip Marsden-Smedley (born 11 May 1961,[1] Bristol, England) is an English travel writer and novelist.

Marsden has a degree in anthropology and worked for some years for The Spectator magazine. He became a full-time writer in the late 1980s. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

A review of his work by Guy Mannes-Abbott appeared in The Independent newspaper in November 2007.[2]

He lives in Cornwall with his wife, a writer, and their children.[2]


His books include:

Historical and Travel writing
  • A far country: travels in Ethiopia, Century, 1990 ISBN 0-7126-2566-6
  • The crossing place: a journey among the Armenians, HarperCollins, 1993 ISBN 0-00-215878-7 (Somerset Maugham Award in 1994). This book is being currently translated into Spanish thanks to an Artist Residency granted by the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, and the Mexican National Fund for Culture and the Arts.
  • The Bronski house: a return to the Borderlands, HarperCollins, 1995 ISBN 0-00-255630-8 "a story of multi-generational Polish exile involving Zofia Ilinska, friend, neighbour and poet" [2][3]
  • The spirit-wrestlers: a Russian journey, HarperCollins, 1998 (Thomas Cook Travel Book Award 1999)
  • The chains of heaven: An Ethiopian romance, HarperCollins, 2005 ISBN 0-00-717347-4 [4]
  • The barefoot emperor: an Ethiopian tragedy, HarperPress, 2007 ISBN 0-00-717345-8 (A life of Tewodros II).[5][6]
  • The Levelling Sea: The Story of a Cornish Haven in the Age of Sail, HarperPress, 2011 ISBN 978-0-00-717453-9
  • Rising Ground: A Search For The Spirit Of Place, Granta, 2014 ISBN 9781847086280
Spectator anthologies
  • Views from abroad: the Spectator book of travel writing, edited by Philip Marsden-Smedley and Jeffrey Klinke, London: Grafton, 1988 ISBN 0-586-08896-2
  • Articles of war: the Spectator book of World War II, edited by Fiona Glass and Philip Marsden-Smedley, London: Grafton, 1989 ISBN 0-246-13394-5
  • Britain in the eighties: the Spectator’s view of the Thatcher decade edited by Philip Marsden-Smedley, Grafton, 1989 ISBN 0-246-13395-3


  1. ^ Date of birth previously cited wrongly as 5 November, possibly a transatlantic misinterpretation of 5/11/61.
  2. ^ a b c The Independent, 23 November 2007 "Philip Marsden: Journeying among people: Philip Marsden's books have shone a light into the hidden corners of Ethiopian history. Guy Mannes-Abbott is touched by his great affection for the nation".
  3. ^ Blurb from eCampus: More than half a century after fleeing the Russians and Nazis, the poet Zofia Ilinska, nee Bronski, went back to the little village of her birth, which was then in Poland but now is part of Belarus. Accompanied by her friend, the travel writer and author Philip Marsden, she was looking for her home, though hoping to find much more -- a key to her childhood, and to her family. Marsden narrates the story of Zofia's return movingly but without sentimentality. And when she gives him her mother's diary, and letters, he begins to peel away the layers of Bronski history. From Zofia's journey we move back in time to the beautiful, courageous Helena, Zofia's mother, whose own family had had to uproot itself during the catastrophic events of 1914. From this chronicle of lost times and displaced souls emerges a passionate, magnificent epic of mother and daughter, a stirring elegy for the worlds that our century has left behind, and an unforgettable testament to love's power to reconstruct and forgive."
  4. ^ Review of The chains of heaven in The Guardian 31 December 2005 - "Highlands in the heart: Aida Edemariam on Philip Marsden's love song to Ethiopia, The Chains of Heaven.
  5. ^ Review of The barefoot emperor in The Observer, 24 August 2008, by Robert Collins.
  6. ^ Review of The barefoot emperor in The Guardian, 12 January 2008, by Aida Edemariam "Birth of an empire: Aida Edemariam is moved by Philip Marsden's vivid exploration of the founding of Ethiopia, The Barefoot Emperor".
  7. ^ Review of Main Cages in The Observer 28 July 2002, by Jonathan Heawood "When Cornwall was another country: Philip Marsden paints mostly in black and white in his first novel, The Main Cages".