Jump to content

Pico Iyer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pico Iyer
Iyer in 2012
Iyer in 2012
BornSiddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer[1]
(1957-02-11) 11 February 1957 (age 67)[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, deceased[3])
Hiroko Takeuchi (wife)

Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist known chiefly for his [writing on explorations both inner and outer [4]]. He is the author of numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul. He has been a constant [5] contributor to Time, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times, among a huge selection of other periodicals [6]

Early life[edit]

Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in Oxford, England, the son of Indian parents. His father was Raghavan N. Iyer, a philosopher and political theorist then enrolled in doctoral studies at the University of Oxford.[1][7] His mother was the religious scholar and teacher Nandini Nanak Mehta.[1] He is the great-great-grandson of Indian Gujarati writer Mahipatram Nilkanth.[8][9] Both of his parents grew up in India then went to England for tertiary education at Oxford, his father as India’s lone Rhodes Scholar in 1950.[10][11] His name is a combination of the Buddha's name, Siddhartha and that of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, author of On The Dignity of Man.[12]

When Iyer was seven, in 1964, his family moved to California, when his father started working with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a California-based think tank, and started teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara.[11][13][14] For over a decade, Iyer moved between schools and college in England and his parents' home in California.[12]

He was a King's Scholar at Eton College, and won a Demyship [15] Magdalen College, Oxford]] and was awarded a congratulatory double first in English literature in 1978, with the highest marks of any student of English Literature. He then received an A.M. in literature from Harvard University in 1980,to go with the [Oxford MA] he was awarded in 1982.


Iyer 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 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.

In 2019, he served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, Guest Director of the Telluride Film Festival.[16][17] He was also the first writer-in-residence at Raffles Hotel Singapore, where he released his book, This Could be Home (2019), which explores Singapore's heritage through its landmarks.[18]

His 2023 book, The Half Known Life, was a national best-seller,[19] like his earlier works The Open Road [20] and The Art of Stillness.[21] It was also named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times,[22] The New Yorker,[23] Time,[24] NPR and many other news-sources. In addition, it won a Lowell Thomas Gold Medal as Best Travel Book of the Year.[25]

Writing themes[edit]

Iyer’s writings began by observing the accelerating criss-crossing of cultures in Asia and across the world, and then, in his 2000 book, The Global Soul, he took that examination within, to explore the quickly increasing number of people world-wide who have many homes and a far wider, and sometimes less visible, sense of belonging than in times past. In a sequel to The Global Soul, The Open Road, he wrote about the XIVth Dalai Lama as an arresting example of one who had found home everywhere in a constantly moving world and reminded all of us that where you stand is more important than where you live.

His subsequent books have been more and more about the inner landscape—how to find faith in a world that often mocks it—and, as he writes in The Half Known Life, how to blend the realism we all need with the hope we can’t live without. Writing often on Leonard Cohen, Thomas Merton, Emily Dickinson and Graham Greene, he has moved beyond the surface, external descriptions of our shifting global world to a deeper enquiry into how we can live.

He has written numerous pieces on world affairs for Time, including cover stories, and the "Woman of the Year" story on Corazon Aquino in 1986.[26][27] 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.[28] He has contributed liner-notes for four Leonard Cohen albums. His books have appeared in 23 languages so far, including Turkish, Russian, and Indonesian. He has also written introductions to more than 70 books, including works by R. K. Narayan, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Matthiessen, and Isamu Noguchi.[29]

He has appeared seven times in the annual Best Spiritual Writing anthology,[30] and three times in the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology,[31] and has served as guest editor for both.[32] He has also appeared in the Best American Essays anthology.[33]

The Utne Reader named him in 1995 as one of 100 Visionaries worldwide who could change your life,[34] while the New Yorker observed that "As a guide to far-flung places, Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed."[35]

Personal life[edit]

Iyer has been based since 1992 in Nara, Japan,[36] where he lives with his Japanese wife, Hiroko Takeuchi,[2][37] and her two children from an earlier marriage. His book, The Lady and the Monk (1991), was a memoir and a reflection of his first year staying in Japan and his first meetings, in 1987, with Takeuchi.[38] His family home in Santa Barbara, California burned down due to a wildfire in 1990. Reflecting on this event, in his words, "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." He splits his time between Japan and California. Asked if he feels rooted and accepted as a foreigner (regarding his current life in Japan) Iyer notes:

"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."[39]

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 hermitage near Big Sur one hundred times since 1991 [40][41]



  • Iyer, Pico (1984). The recovery of innocence. London: Concord Grove Press.
  • — (July 1988). Video night in Kathmandu : and other reports from the not-so-far East. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-55027-7.
  • — (August 1991). The lady and the monk : four seasons in Kyoto. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-40308-1.
  • — (April 1993). Falling off the map : some lonely places of the world. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-74612-9.
  • — (April 1995). Cuba and the night : a novel. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-679-44052-6.
  • — (April 1997). Tropical classical : Essays from Several Directions. New York: A.A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45432-2.
  • — (February 2000). The global soul : jet lag, shopping malls, and the search for home. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45433-0.
  • — (January 2001). Imagining Canada : an outsider's hope for a global future. Toronto: Hart House, University of Toronto. ISBN 0-9694382-1-4.
  • — (April 2004). Abandon : a romance. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-3085-4.
  • — (2004). Sun after dark : flights into the foreign. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41506-8.
  • — (2008). The open road : the global journey of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26760-3.
  • — (2012). The man within my head. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26761-0.
  • — (4 November 2014). The art of stillness : adventures in going nowhere. Eydís Einarsdóttir (First TED books hardcover ed.). New York. ISBN 978-1-4767-8472-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • — (2019). Autumn light : season of fire and farewells (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-451-49393-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • — (30 July 2019). This could be home : Raffles Hotel and the city of tomorrow. Singapore. ISBN 978-1-912098-55-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • — (2 June 2020). A beginner's guide to Japan : observations and provocations (First Vintage Departures ed.). New York. ISBN 978-1-101-97347-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • — (2023). The Half Known Life : In Search of Paradise. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-0-593-420256.


Book reviews[edit]

Year Review article Work(s) reviewed
2007 Iyer, Pico (June 28, 2007). "'A new kind of mongrel fiction'". The New York Review of Books. 54 (11): 36–37, 40–41. Ondaatje, Michael (2007). Divisadero. McClelland and Stewart.

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. ^ see Santa Barbara Independent July 29, 2021
  4. ^ since a best-selling meditation on the Dalai Lama and another on The Art of Stillness hardly count as travel writing
  5. ^ see archives of all these magazines: weekly pieces for Time since 1983, pieces for Harper’s from 1991 till 2023, pieces for The New York Review from 1995 to 2017, pieces for the New York Times frequently since 1989 or so
  6. ^ see Pico Iyer Journeys website, listing 250 other magazines and newspapers to which he has contributed original pieces
  7. ^ Rukun Advani, "Mahatma for Sale", The Hindu, 27 April 2003.
  8. ^ John, Paul (8 December 2013). "The itchy feet gene". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  9. ^ Paul, John. "Pico Iyer's Gujarati genes revealed". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  10. ^ see Magdalen College/Rhodes House records
  11. ^ a b "Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing". World Hum. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  12. ^ a b "Pico Iyer — The Urgency of Slowing Down". The On Being Project. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  13. ^ Tam Dalyell (10 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Raghavan Iyer". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  14. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (24 June 1995). "Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer, 65, An Expert on East-West Cultures". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Times of London December 1974 to
  16. ^ "Pico Iyer — Journalism". journalism.princeton.edu. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  17. ^ "46th Annual Telluride Film Festival: Guest Director Pico Iyer". Telluride Inside... and Out. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  18. ^ "Raffles Writers Residency - Pico Iyer | British Council Singapore". www.britishcouncil.sg. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  19. ^ see cover of book
  20. ^ see cover of paperback
  21. ^ see New York Times Bestseller List 2015
  22. ^ see New York Times December 2023
  23. ^ see New Yorker best books list December 2023
  24. ^ see Time list of best 100 books of 2023, December 2023
  25. ^ see Society of American Travel Writers website
  26. ^ List of articles in Time.
  27. ^ Pico Iyer (5 January 1987). "Corazon Aquino". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 20 December 2007. Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  28. ^ program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009.
  29. ^ Full listing at "About Pico Iyer", picoiyerjourneys.com.
  30. ^ Volumes for 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012.
  31. ^ Volumes for 2001, 2006, 2012.
  32. ^ Best American Travel Writing 2004; Best Spiritual Writing 2010.
  33. ^ 2011 edition.
  34. ^ Utne Reader, January/February 1995.
  35. ^ The New Yorker, May 1997 issue on Indian writing, "Briefly Noted".[page needed]
  36. ^ "About Pico Iyer". Pico Iyer Journeys. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  37. ^ Iyer 2008, p. 274.
  38. ^ Altman, Anna. "Pico Iyer's Japanese Love Story, from Spring to "Autumn Light"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  39. ^ Brenner, Angie; "Global Writer, Heart & Soul – Interview with Pico Iyer", Wild River Review, 19 November 2007.
  40. ^ see advance descriptions of his coming 2025 book, Aflame, covering these 100 retreats.
  41. ^ "Pico Iyer Journeys". Pico Iyers Journeys. Retrieved 21 March 2020.

Further consideration[edit]

External links[edit]