Pico Iyer

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Pico Iyer
Iyer in 2012
Iyer in 2012
BornSiddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer[1]
(1957-02-11) 11 February 1957 (age 63)[2]
Oxford, England
OccupationEssayist, novelist
Notable awardsGuggenheim Fellowship, 2005 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Chapman University 2017.
RelativesRaghavan N. Iyer (father, deceased)
Nandini Iyer (mother)
Hiroko Takeuchi (wife)

Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist, often known for his travel writing. He is the author of numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul. An essayist for Time since 1986, he also publishes regularly in Harper's, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and other publications.

Early life[edit]

Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in Oxford, England, the son of Indian parents. His father was Raghavan N. Iyer, an Oxford philosopher and political theorist.[1][3] His mother is the religious scholar Nandini Nanak Mehta.[1] He is the great-great-grandson of Indian Gujarati writer Mahipatram Nilkanth.[4][5] Both of his parents grew up in India then went to England for tertiary education.[6] His unusual name is a combination of the Buddha's name, Siddhartha, that of the Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and his father's name.

When Iyer was seven, in 1964, his father started working with Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a California-based think tank, so the family also moved to California, as his father started teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara (1965–1986).[6][7][8] Thus for more than a decade Iyer moved back and forth several times a year between schools and college in England and his parents' home in California.

He was a King's Scholar at Eton College, was awarded a Congratulatory Double First in English Literature at Magdalen College at Oxford University, and then received his second master's in literature at Harvard. In 2017, along with Plácido Domingo and Mario Vargas Llosa, he was awarded an honorary doctorate (in Humane Letters) by Chapman University.


He taught writing and literature at Harvard before joining Time in 1982 as a writer on world affairs. Since then he has travelled widely, from North Korea to Easter Island, and from Paraguay to Ethiopia, while writing thirteen {see list of books in most recent work, A Beginner's Guide to Japan] works of non-fiction and two novels, including Video Night in Kathmandu (1988), The Lady and the Monk (1991), The Global Soul (2000) and The Man Within My Head (2012). He is also a frequent speaker at literary festivals and universities around the world. He delivered popular TED talks in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019 [ see ted.com] and has twice been a Fellow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He appeared in a commercial for "Incredible India" in 2007.

Personal life[edit]

Pico Iyer has been based since 1992 in Nara, Japan,[9] where he lives with his Japanese wife, Hiroko Takeuchi,[2][10] the "Lady" of his second book, and her two children from his wife's earlier marriage. Iyer's family home in Santa Barbara burned down due to a wildfire in 1990, a biographical landmark that perhaps confirmed his lifelong peripatetic perspective on 'being at home' in general. In his literary essays and TED-Talks, he repeatedly said: “For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil, than you could say, with a piece of soul.”

Asked if he feels rooted and accepted as a foreigner (regarding his current life in Japan) Iyer replies:

"Japan is therefore an ideal place because I never will be a true citizen here, and will always be an outsider, however long I live here and however well I speak the language. And the society around me is as comfortable with that as I am… I am not rooted in a place, I think, so much as in certain values and affiliations and friendships that I carry everywhere I go; my home is both invisible and portable. But I would gladly stay in this physical location for the rest of my life, and there is nothing in life that I want that it doesn’t have."[11]

Pico Iyer has known the 14th Dalai Lama since he was in his late teens, when he accompanied his father to Dharamshala, India, in 1974. In discussions about his spirituality, Iyer has mentioned not having a formal meditation practice, but practicing regular solitude, visiting a remote Benedictine hermitage near Big Sur several times a year.[12]

In the summer of 2019, he served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, Guest Director of the Telluride Film Festival and the first official writer-in-residence at Raffles Hotel Singapore [see official bios, and bio at the end of most recent book, A Beginner's Guide to Japan].


Having grown up a part of — and apart from — English, American and Indian cultures, he became one of the first writers to take the international airport itself as his subject, along with the associated jet lag, displacement and cultural minglings. He writes often of his delight in living between the cracks and outside fixed categories. Most of his books have been about trying to see from within some society or way of life — revolutionary Cuba, Sufism, Buddhist Kyoto, even global disorientation — but from the larger perspective an outsider can sometimes bring. "I am simply a fairly typical product of a movable sensibility," he wrote in 1993 in Harper's, "living and working in a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel. I am a multinational soul on a multinational globe on which more and more countries are as polyglot and restless as airports. Taking planes seems as natural to me as picking up the phone or going to school; I fold up my self and carry it around as if it were an overnight bag."[13]

Iyer has written numerous pieces on world affairs for Time, including 10 cover stories, and the "Woman of the Year" story on Corazon Aquino in 1986.[14][15] He has written on literature for The New York Review of Books; on globalism for Harper's; on travel for the Financial Times; and on many other themes for The New York Times, National Geographic, The Times Literary Supplement, contributing up to a hundred articles a year to various publications.[16] He has contributed liner-notes for four Leonard Cohen albums. His books have appeared in 23 languages so far {see list on picoiyerjourneys.com website], includingTurkish, Russian, and Indonesian, and he has written introductions to more than 70 [see list on picoiyerjourneys.com books, including works by Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Matthiessen, and Isamu Noguchi.[17] He also writes regularly on sport, film, and religion — and especially on the places where mysticism and globalism converge.

He has appeared seven times in the annual Best Spiritual Writing anthology,[18] and three times in the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology,[19] and has served as guest editor for both.[20] He has also appeared in the Best American Essays anthology.[21]

Iyer's writing goes back and forth between the monastery and the airport — "Thomas Merton on a frequent flier pass," as the Indian writer Pradeep Sebastian has written[22] — and aims, perhaps, to bring new global energies and possibilities into non-fiction. The Utne Reader named him in 1995 as one of 100 Visionaries worldwide who could change your life,[23] while the New Yorker observed that "As a guide to far-flung places, Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed."[24]



  • The Recovery of Innocence. (London: Concord Grove Press, July 1984. ISBN 0-88695-019-8) – A collection of essays about American literature, described on its cover as offering "Literary glimpses of the American dream". The lists of publications in Iyer's later books do not mention this book, which is not common; the Library of Congress has a copy.
  • Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-so-Far East (New York: Knopf, April 1988, hardback. Vintage, July 1989; paperback / ISBN 0-679-72216-5)
  • The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto (August 1991 / ISBN 0-679-40308-6; New York: Knopf, September 1991, hardback; Vintage, October 1992, paperback / ISBN 0-679-73834-7)
  • Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World (New York: Knopf, April 1993 hardback. Vintage, May 1994 paperback / ISBN 0-679-74612-9)
  • Cuba and the Night (New York: Knopf, April 1995 hardback. Vintage, April 1996 paperback / ISBN 0-517-17267-4)
  • Tropical Classical: Essays From Several Directions. (New York: Knopf, May 1997. ISBN 0-679-45432-2 (hardback). Penguin, 1997. ISBN 0-14-027119-8 (paperback). Vintage, June 1998. ISBN 0-679-77610-9 (paperback)) – Book reviews and essays on places, people, and other matters.
  • The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home (New York: Knopf, February 2000 hardback. Vintage, April 2001 paperback / ISBN 0-679-45433-0)
  • Imagining Canada: An Outsider's Hope for a Global Future (Toronto: Hart House, University of Toronto, January 2001 / ISBN 0-9694382-1-4) – First Hart House lecture: full transcript
  • Abandon: A Romance (New York: Viking, February 2003 hardback. Vintage, April 2004 paperback / ISBN 1-4000-3085-4)
  • Sun after Dark: Flights into the Foreign (New York: Knopf, April 2004 hardback. Vintage, April 2005 paperback / ISBN 0-375-41506-8)
  • The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (New York: Knopf, March 2008 hardback / ISBN 0-307-26760-1)
  • The Man within My Head (New York: Knopf, January 2012 hardback / ISBN 978-0-307-26761-0)
  • The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere (Simon & Schuster/TED, 2014 hardback / ISBN 1476784728)
  • Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells (Knopf, April 2019 hardback / ISBN 0451493931)

This Could be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow (Epigram Books, August 2019)

A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations (Knopf, September 2019, hardback.

Essays and other contributions[edit]

Selected introductions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Raghavan Iyer, Political Science: Santa Barbara, 1930-1995", Calisphere, University of California.
  2. ^ a b Mark Medley (13 February 2012). "Being Greene: Pico Iyer evokes his 'literary father' in The Man Within My Head". National Post. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  3. ^ Rukun Advani, "Mahatma for Sale", The Hindu, 27 April 2003.
  4. ^ John, Paul (8 December 2013). "The itchy feet gene". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  5. ^ Paul, John. "Pico Iyer's Gujarati genes revealed". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing". World Hum. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  7. ^ Tam Dalyell (10 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Raghavan Iyer". The Independent. London. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  8. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (24 June 1995). "Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer, 65, An Expert on East-West Cultures". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "About Pico Iyer". Pico Iyer Journeys. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  10. ^ Iyer 2008, p. 274.
  11. ^ Brenner, Angie; "Global Writer, Heart & Soul – Interview with Pico Iyer", Wild River Review, 19 November 2007.
  12. ^ "Pico Iyer – The Art of Stillness". On Being with Krista Tippett. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  13. ^ April 1993 issue of Harper's.
  14. ^ List of articles in Time.
  15. ^ Pico Iyer (5 January 1987). "Corazon Aquino". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 20 December 2007. Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  16. ^ program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009.
  17. ^ Full listing at "About Pico Iyer", picoiyerjourneys.com.
  18. ^ Volumes for 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012.
  19. ^ Volumes for 2001, 2006, 2012.
  20. ^ Best American Travel Writing 2004; Best Spiritual Writing 2010.
  21. ^ 2011 edition.
  22. ^ The Hindu, 7 November 2006.
  23. ^ Utne Reader, January/February 1995.
  24. ^ The New Yorker, May 1997 issue on Indian writing, "Briefly Noted".[page needed]

External links[edit]