Simon Winchester

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Simon Winchester

Winchester in New York City, 2013
Winchester in New York City, 2013
Born (1944-09-28) 28 September 1944 (age 76)
London, England
OccupationJournalist, author
EducationUniversity of Oxford, Geology, 1966
SpouseCatherine Heald (div.)
Setsuko Sato

Simon Winchester, OBE (born 28 September 1944) is a British-American author and journalist. In his career at The Guardian newspaper, Winchester covered numerous significant events, including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. Winchester has written or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books, has written one novel, and has contributed to several travel magazines, among them Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian Magazine, and National Geographic. He lives in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in London, Winchester attended several boarding schools in Dorset.[1] He spent a year hitchhiking around the United States,[2] then in 1963 went up to St Catherine's College, Oxford, to study geology. He graduated in 1966, and found work with Falconbridge of Africa, a Canadian mining company. His first assignment was to work as a field geologist searching for copper deposits in Uganda.[3]


While on assignment in Uganda, Winchester happened upon a copy of James Morris' Coronation Everest, an account of the 1953 expedition that led to the first successful ascent of Mount Everest.[4] The book instilled in Winchester the desire to be a writer, so he wrote to Morris, seeking career advice. Morris urged Winchester to give up geology the very day he received the letter, and get a job as a writer on a newspaper.[5]

In 1969 Winchester joined The Guardian, first as a regional correspondent based in Newcastle upon Tyne, but later as its Northern Ireland correspondent.[1] Winchester's time in Northern Ireland placed him around several events of The Troubles, including the events of Bloody Sunday and the Belfast "Hour of Terror".[6][7] In 1971, Winchester became involved in a controversy over the British press' coverage of Northern Ireland when he was denounced on the floor of the House of Commons by Bernadette Devlin for his part in justifying the shooting to death of Berney Watt by British soldiers.[8]

After leaving Northern Ireland in 1972, Winchester was briefly assigned to Calcutta before becoming correspondent for The Guardian in Washington, DC, where he covered news ranging from the end of Richard Nixon's administration[9] to the start of Jimmy Carter's presidency.[3]

In 1982, while working as chief foreign feature writer for The Sunday Times, Winchester was on location for the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentine forces. Suspected of being a spy, Winchester was held for three months as a prisoner in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego.[10] He wrote about this event in his book, Prison Diary, published in 1983 and also in Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire, published in 1985. That same year, he shifted to working as a freelance writer and travelled to Hong Kong.[1] When Condé Nast re-branded Signature magazine as Condé Nast Traveler, Winchester was appointed its Asia-Pacific Editor.[11] Over the following fifteen years he contributed to a number of travel publications including Traveler, National Geographic and Smithsonian magazine.[10]

Winchester's first book, In Holy Terror, was published by Faber and Faber in 1975. The book drew heavily on his experiences of the turmoil in Northern Ireland. In 1976 he published his second book, American Heartbeat, which deals with his travels through the American heartland. Winchester's first truly successful book was The Professor and the Madman (1998) published by Penguin UK as The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Telling the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, the book was a New York Times Best Seller.[12]

Though he still writes travel books, Winchester has used the narrative non-fiction form he adopted for The Professor and the Madman several more times, resulting in multiple best-selling books. The Map that Changed the World (2001) focuses on the geologist William Smith and was Winchester's second New York Times best seller.[13] The year 2003 saw the publication of The Meaning of Everything, which returns to the topic of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and of the best-selling Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.[14] Winchester then published A Crack in the Edge of the World, a book about San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.[15] The Man Who Loved China (2008) retells the life of the scholar Joseph Needham.[16]The Alice Behind Wonderland, an exploration of the life and work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and his relationship with Alice Liddell, was published in 2011.[17]

On 4 July 2011 Winchester was naturalized as an American citizen in a ceremony aboard the USS Constitution.[2] Winchester's book on the Pacific Ocean, Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers, was published in 2015. It was his second book about the Pacific region, his first, Pacific Rising: The Emergence of a New World Culture having been published in 1991.

Personal life[edit]

Winchester lives in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.[18]


  • 1975 – In Holy Terror
  • 1976 – American Heartbeat
  • 1983 – Stones of Empire: Buildings of the Raj (by Jan Morris; photographs by Simon Winchester)
  • 1983 – Prison Diary: Argentina
  • 1984 – Their Noble Lordships: Class and Power in Modern Britain
  • 1985 – Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (also published under the title The Sun Never Sets)
  • 1988 – Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles
  • 1991 – Pacific Rising: The Emergence of a New World Culture
  • 1992 – Hong Kong: Here Be Dragons (by Rich Browne, James Marshall and Simon Winchester)
  • 1992 – Pacific Nightmare: How Japan Starts World War III : A Future History (a novel)
  • 1995 – Small World: A Global Photographic Project, 1987–94 (by Martin Parr and Simon Winchester), Dewi Lewis, ISBN 1-899235-05-1
  • 1996 – The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time
  • 1998 – The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (Published in the United States as The Professor and the Madman) – Dr. William Chester Minor and Sir James Murray
  • 1999 – The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans
  • 2001 – The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (the geologist William Smith)
  • 2003 – The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (the making of the Oxford English Dictionary)
  • 2003 – Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded (on the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa)
  • 2004 – Simon Winchester's Calcutta (a collection of writings about the Indian city, edited with his son Rupert Winchester)
  • 2005 – A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 (on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake)
  • 2008 – The Man Who Loved China – the life of Joseph Needham (title of the UK edition: Bomb, Book & Compass)
  • 2010 – Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. HarperCollins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-00-734137-5 (also published under the title Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean)
  • 2011 – The Alice Behind Wonderland (on Alice Liddell)
  • 2013 – The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible
  • 2013 - The Man with the Electrified Brain Adventures in Madness Kindle edition only
  • 2015 – When the Earth Shakes: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis
  • 2015 – Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers
  • 2018 – The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World (also published as Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World)
  • 2021 – Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World


Winchester was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for "services to journalism and literature" in Queen Elizabeth II's New Year Honours list of 2006.

Winchester was named an honorary fellow at St Catherine's College, Oxford in October 2009.[19]

Winchester received an honorary degree from Dalhousie University in October 2010.[20]

Winchester received the Lawrence J. Burpee Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in November 2016. He was also elected a Fellow of the RCGS.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Simon Winchester Bio". Simon Archived from the original on 20 April 2010. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b "My Turn: Simon Winchester on Becoming an American Citizen". 26 June 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Winchester Simon – Bio of Winchester Simon – AEI Speakers Bureau". AEI Speakers Bureau. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  4. ^ "BookPage Interview August 2001: Simon Winchester". August 2001. Archived from the original on 1 June 2008. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  5. ^ "Simon Winchester – Annotated Bibliography". San Jose State University. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  6. ^ Winchester, Simon (31 January 1972). "13 killed as paratroops break riot". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  7. ^ Hoggart, Simon (22 July 1972). "11 die in Belfast hour of terror". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  8. ^ McCann, Eamonn (1972). "3: The Press & The British Army". The British Press and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Socialist Research Centre. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  9. ^ Pick, Hella (9 August 1974). "Dignity in the Last Goodbye". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Simon Winchester". 2004. Archived from the original on 13 December 2010. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  11. ^ "Travel Writers: Simon Winchester". Rolf Pott's Vagabonding. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  12. ^ "Best Sellers Plus". New York Times. 17 January 1999. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  13. ^ "Best Sellers". New York Times. 9 September 2001. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  14. ^ "Best Sellers". New York Times. 25 August 2002. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  15. ^ "Best Sellers". New York Times. 6 November 2005. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  16. ^ "About the Book – The Man Who Loved China". HarperCollins. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  17. ^ "Simon Winchester Writer, Broadcaster and Traveler". Simon Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  18. ^ Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2015. Bloomsbury. 2015. pp. 324–5.
  19. ^ "Academic Staff". St Catherine's College. Archived from the original on 13 May 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  20. ^ "Simon Winchester". Dalhousie University Registrar. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 21 November 2010.

External links[edit]