Rory MacLean

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rory MacLean FRSL (born 5 November 1954)[1] is a British-Canadian[2] historian and travel writer who lives and works in Berlin and the United Kingdom. His best known works are Stalin’s Nose, a travelogue through eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall; Magic Bus, a history of the Asia Overland hippie trail; and Berlin: Imagine a City, a portrait of that city over 500 years. In 2019 John le Carré wrote that MacLean "must surely be the outstanding, and most indefatigable, traveller-writer of our time."[3]


MacLean was born in Vancouver, the son of Canadian newspaper publisher Andrew Dyas MacLean and Joan Howe, former secretary to author Ian Fleming at The Times and part-inspiration for the fictional James Bond character Miss Moneypenny.[4] He grew up in Toronto, graduating from Upper Canada College and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. For ten years he was involved in movie productions,[5] working with David Hemmings and Ken Russell in England, David Bowie[6] in Berlin and Marlene Dietrich[7] in Paris. In 1989 he won The Independent inaugural travel writing competition and changed from screen to prose writing. After completing nine travel books in the UK he wrote Berlin: Imagine a City in the capital where he blogged for the Meet the Germans website of the Goethe-Institut. On the publication of his 15th book Pravda Ha Ha: Truth, Lies and the End of Europe Jan Morris wrote "This is a tremendous thing that MacLean is creating; a new kind of history, in several dimensions and innumerable moods, that adds up to — across the span of his books — a great and continuing work of literature."[8] He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[9]

Writing career[edit]

MacLean's first book, Stalin's Nose (1992), told the story of a journey from Berlin to Moscow in a Trabant and became a UK top ten best-seller, winning the Yorkshire Post's Best First Work prize. William Dalrymple called it, "the most extraordinary debut in travel writing since Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia".[10] Colin Thubron considered the book to be a "surreal masterpiece".[11]

His second book The Oatmeal Ark (1997) followed, exploring immigrant dreams from Scotland and across Canada.[12] It was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award. When the chance arose to meet the Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, MacLean travelled to Burma. Under the Dragon (1998) told the story of that country and won an Arts Council of England Writers' Award in 1997.[13]

In Falling for Icarus (2004), MacLean moved to Crete to hand build—and fly once—a flying machine to come to terms with the death of his mother and to examine the relevance of Greek mythology to modern lives.[14] In his book Magic Bus (2006), Maclean followed the many young Western people who in the 1960s and 1970s blazed the 'hippie trail' from Istanbul to India. His seventh book Missing Lives (with photographer Nick Danziger) (2010) told the stories of fifteen people who went missing during the Yugoslav wars. His tenth book, Berlin: Imagine a City (2014) is a non-fiction history of the German capital.[15][16]

When the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival commissioned The Freedom Papers from 51 writers to explore ideas related to freedom, Maclean wrote a bleak essay about daily life in North Korea being a “scripted performance”. He read this on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week strand.[17]

Humanitarian work[edit]

MacLean worked with photographer Nick Danziger on books Missing Lives (International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 2010) and Beneath the Carob Trees (CMP, Nicosia, 2016)[18] about the tens of thousands of Europeans who vanished in the Yugoslav Wars and the Cyprus conflict, and the use of DNA to enable the relatives of missing persons to recover the remains of their loved ones and so help to restore trust between communities. MacLean and Danziger also collaborated on Another Life (Unbound, London, 2017), following 15 impoverished families in eight countries over 15 years to examine the effect of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals on lives lived on the edge, as well as British Council pluralism projects in Myanmar and North Korea.


  • Stalin’s Nose (1992)
  • The Oatmeal Ark (1997)
  • Under the Dragon (1998)
  • Next Exit Magic Kingdom (2000)
  • Falling for Icarus (2004)
  • Magic Bus (2006)
  • Missing Lives (2010)
  • Gift of Time (2011)
  • Back in the USSR: Heroic Adventures in Transnistria (2014)
  • Berlin: Imagine a City (2014)
  • Wunderkind: Portraits of 50 Contemporary German Artists (2016)
  • Beneath the Carob Trees: The Lost Lives of Cyprus (2016)
  • Pictures of You: Ten Journeys in Time (2017)
  • In North Korea: Lives and Lies in the State of Truth (2017)
  • Pravda Ha Ha: Truth, Lies and the End of Europe (2019)


  1. ^ LCCN 2009-292442
  2. ^ MacLean, Rory. "Biography". Rory MacLean. Archived from the original on 14 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014. Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most expressive and adventurous creative non-fiction writers
  3. ^ John le Carré, Tim Leffel's Travel Writing 2.0, December 2019
  4. ^ Maclean, Rory (2012). Gift of Time. London: Constable & Robinson. ISBN 978-1-84901-857-9.
  5. ^ "BBC Programme Index".
  6. ^ "Bowie in Berlin: 'He drove round the car park at 70mph screaming that he wanted to end it all'". 13 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Rory MacLean: Marlene Dietrich's last song | National Post". National Post. 24 June 2014.
  8. ^ Jan Morris, Elementum, December 2019
  9. ^ "Current RSL Fellows | Royal Society of Literature". Archived from the original on 21 August 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  10. ^ William Dalrymple, in the first edition of Stalin’s Nose (HarperCollins, London 1992)
  11. ^ Colin Thubron, in his Introduction to a new edition of Stalin’s Nose (Tauris Parke, London, 2008)
  12. ^ John Fowles, Taking Ghosts, The Spectator (London) 12 April 1997 p.37
  13. ^ "Rory MacLean - Literature". Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  14. ^ Falling for Icarus (Tauris Parke, London, 2011)
  15. ^ Gerard De Groot, Three Books on Berlin, Washington Post 31 October 2014
  16. ^ Jan Morris, Berlin: Imagine a City, The Telegraph 22 March 2014
  17. ^ "The Freedom Papers: Rory Maclean and Kapka Kassabova". BBC R4 Book of the Week, 2018-08-21.
  18. ^ "CMP>CMP launches book documenting its work". Archived from the original on 2 October 2016.


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