William Dalrymple (historian)

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William Dalrymple

Dalrymple in 2014
Dalrymple in 2014
Born (1965-03-20) 20 March 1965 (age 56)
OccupationWriter, historian, Art-Historian, Photographer
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
SubjectIndia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East, Eastern Christianity, Muslim and Islamic World, Christian-Muslim relations, religious syncretism
SpouseOlivia Fraser

William Dalrymple FRAS FRSL FRGS FRSE (born William Hamilton-Dalrymple on 20 March 1965) is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a broadcaster and critic.[1] His books have won numerous awards and prizes, including the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award, the Hemingway, the Kapuściński and the Wolfson Prizes. He is also one of the co-founders and co-directors of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival.[2][3][4]

In 2018, he was awarded the President's Medal of the British Academy.[5] The BBC television documentary on his pilgrimage to the source of the river Ganga, "Shiva's Matted Locks', one of three episodes of his 'Indian Journeys' series, which Dalrymple wrote and presented, won him the Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series at BAFTA in 2002.[6]

He has been five times longlisted and once shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction.

In 2012, Dalrymple was appointed a Whitney J. Oates Visiting Fellow in the Humanities by Princeton University.[7] In 2015, he was appointed the OP Jindal Distinguished Lecturer at Brown University.[8] He was also named in the 2020 Prospect list of the top 50 thinkers for the COVID-19 era.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Dalrymple is the son of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, 10th Baronet, and Lady Anne-Louise Keppel, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Albemarle. He is a cousin of Virginia Woolf. His brother, Jock, was a first-class cricketer. He was educated at Ampleforth College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was first a history exhibitioner and then a senior history scholar.[10]

Dalrymple first went to Delhi on 26 January 1984,[11] and has lived in India on and off since 1989 and spends most of the year at his Mehrauli farmhouse in the outskirts of Delhi,[12] but summers in London and Edinburgh. His wife, Olivia, is an artist and comes from a family with long-standing connections to India. The couple have three children. Through his wife's side of the family, he is related to Scottish actress Rose Leslie.[13]

Interests and influence[edit]

William Dalrymple (left) with Esther Freud (centre) and Hanan Ashrawi at PalFest 2008.

Dalrymple's interests include the history and art of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains and early Eastern Christianity. Every one of his ten books have won literary prizes. His first three were travel books based on his journeys in the Middle East, India and Central Asia. His early influences included travel writers such as Robert Byron,[14] Eric Newby, and Bruce Chatwin.

Dalrymple published a book of essays about current affairs in the Indian Subcontinent, and four award-winning histories of the interaction between the East India Company and the peoples of India and Afghanistan between the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century, his "Company Quartet". His books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books,[15] The Guardian,[16] the New Statesman[17] and The New Yorker.[18] He has also written many articles for Time magazine. He has been the Indian Subcontinent correspondent of the New Statesman since 2004.

He attended the inaugural Palestine Festival of Literature in 2008 – giving readings and taking workshops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem.[19]

His 2009 book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, a study of some of the more esoteric forms of modern Indian, and especially Hindu, spirituality, was published by Bloomsbury, and like all his others, went to the number one slot on the Indian non-fiction best-seller list.[20] Since its publication he has been touring the UK, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, Holland and the US with a band consisting of some of the people featured in his book including Sufis, Fakirs, Bauls, Theveram hymn singers as well as a prison warder and part-time Theyyam dancer widely believed to incarnate the God Vishnu.[21]

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, a history of the First Afghan War 1839–42, was published in India in December 2012,[22] in the UK in February 2013, and in the US in April 2013. Dalrymple's great-great-granduncle Colin Mackenzie fought in the war and was briefly detained by the Afghans. Following the publication of the book Dalrymple was called to brief both the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the White House on the lessons to be learned from Afghan history.[citation needed]

Dalrymple was also the curator of Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707–1857, a major show of the late Mughal painting for the Asia Society in New York, which ran from February to May 2012.[23] A catalogue of this exhibit co-edited by Dalrymple with Yuthika Sharma was published by Penguin in 2012 under the same name.[22]

More recently he curated the acclaimed show of Company School art, "Forgotten Masters" at the Wallace Collection in London.

His most recent book, published in 2019, is The Anarchy, a history of the Indian Subcontinent during the period from 1739 to 1803, which saw the collapse of the Mughal imperial system,[24] rise of the Maratha imperial confederacy, and the militarisation and rise of power of the East India Company.[25] It was a finalist for the 2020 Cundill Prize.[26]

TV and radio[edit]

Dalrymple has written and presented the six-part television series Stones of the Raj (Channel 4, August 1997),[27] the three-part Indian Journeys (BBC, August 2002)[28] and Sufi Soul (Channel 4, Nov 2005).[29]

The six-part Stones of the Raj documents the stories behind some of British India's colonial architecture starting with Lahore (16 August 1997), Calcutta (23 August 1997), The French Connection (30 August 1997), The Fatal Friendship (6 September 1997), Surrey in Tibet (13 September 1997), and concluded with The Magnificent Ruin (20 September 1997).

The trilogy of Indian Journeys consists of three one-hour episodes starting with Shiva’s Matted Locks which while tracing the source of the Ganga, takes Dalrymple on a journey to the Himalayas. The second part, City of Djinns, is based on his travel book of the same name, takes a look at Delhi's history, and last Doubting Thomas, which takes Dalrymple to the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where St Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus is closely associated.[30]

He has done a six-part history series The Long Search for Radio 4.[31] In this series Dalrymple searches to discover the spiritual roots of the British Isles. Dalrymple says "In the course of my travels I often came across the assumption that intense spirituality was somehow the preserve of what many call 'the mystic East'... it's a misconception that has always irritated me as I've always regarded our own indigenous British traditions of spirituality as especially rich."

The BBC broadcast a documentary on 3 September 2015 entitled Love and Betrayal in India: The White Mughal,[32] based on Dalrymple's book White Mughals.



  • Lonely Planet Sacred India. Lonely Planet Publications, (1999) ISBN 1740593669
  • Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707–1857. Penguin Books India, (2012) ISBN 978-0-1434-1906-8
  • Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company. Philip Wilson Publishers, (2020) ISBN 978-1781301012

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ "William Dalrymple". Penguin Books India. Archived from the original on 9 January 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  2. ^ "The Greatest Literary Show on Earth". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  3. ^ "Looking for something special? Try treasure hunting in India". KiwiCollection.com. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 22 April 2008.
  4. ^ "Writes of passage". Hindustan Times. 30 January 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Award-winning journalists, prehistorians and world-leading economists honoured with prestigious British Academy prizes and medals". British Academy. 20 August 2018. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  6. ^ "William Dalrymple". Penguin Books India. Archived from the original on 9 January 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  7. ^ Short-Term Visiting Fellows, Princeton University retrieved 1 October 2012.
  8. ^ [1], Brown University retrieved 28 April 2015.
  9. ^ "The world's top 50 thinkers for the Covid-19 age" (PDF). Prospect. 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  10. ^ "Biography – William Dalrymple".
  11. ^ William Dalrymple (2007). "Introduction". The Last Mughal. Penguin. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-143-10243-4.
  12. ^ Karan Mahajan (February–March 2011). "The Don of Dehli". Bookforum.com. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  13. ^ Atwood, Margaret (22 March 2015). "Margaret Atwood on Game of Thrones: 'Real people, every murderous one'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  14. ^ https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/william-dalrymple
  15. ^ a b "Book review by William Dalrymple". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  16. ^ "Articles by William Dalrymple". London: GuardianUnlimited. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  17. ^ "Articles by William Dalrymple". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  18. ^ "Articles by William Dalrymple". The New Yorker. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  19. ^ "Caabu Reception: An evening with William Dalrymple". The Council for Arab-British Understanding. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  20. ^ "William's new book tops bestseller list". Hindustan Times. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 28 October 2009.
  21. ^ "On Tour with the Madmen". Financial Times. 18 September 2009.
  22. ^ a b William Dalrymple`s book on first Anglo-Afghan war out in December Zee News
  23. ^ Princes and Painters, Asia Society retrieved 4 October 2012.
  24. ^ "East India Company sent a diplomat to Jahangir & all the Mughal Emperor cared about was beer".
  25. ^ "Anarchy EIC".
  26. ^ "US$75k Cundill History Prize 2020 finalists announced". Books+Publishing. 21 October 2020. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  27. ^ "Stones of the Raj". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 11 January 2008. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  28. ^ "BBC World to premiere Indian Journeys 20 August". Channel 4. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  29. ^ "Sufi Soul". Channel 4. Archived from the original on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  30. ^ "The voyager – William Dalrymple". Mid Day. 9 August 2002. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  31. ^ "The Long Search". BBC. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  32. ^ A love story that broke the conventional boundaries of Empire BBC September 2015
  33. ^ "The Last Mughal". Oxford Bookstore. Archived from the original on 11 January 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  34. ^ "thomas cook travel book award 1980–2003". THE BOOKLIST CENTER. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  35. ^ "From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium". Stanfords. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  36. ^ "Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters". Stanfords. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  37. ^ a b "White Mughals". The City Circle. Archived from the original on 6 October 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  38. ^ a b "William Dalrymple". Contemporary Writers: British Council. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  39. ^ "William Dalrymple". Penguin Books India. Archived from the original on 9 January 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  40. ^ "Author in Focus: Interview with William Dalrymple". Penguin Books India. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  41. ^ "William Dalrymple". Cerebration.Org. Archived from the original on 9 January 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  42. ^ "Honorary Degrees June 2006". University of St. Andrews. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  43. ^ "Girls steal the show at LU convocation". Express India. 18 November 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2007.
  44. ^ "Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Awards honours best writers". India Infoline.com. 5 July 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  45. ^ "Graduates told to make their mark in life". The Press and Journal. 8 July 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  46. ^ "The winners take it all". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 8 March 2008. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2008.
  47. ^ "Anupam Kher, William Dalrymple Honoured". OutlookIndia.com. 27 November 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
  48. ^ "University of Bradford degree honours for familiar faces". The Telegraph & Argus. 14 July 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  49. ^ University Of Edinburgh graduates The Scotsman 30 June 2015
  50. ^ Bloomsbury is Delighted to Announce That the Italian Edition of William Dalrymple's Return of a King The Telegraph 23 June 2015
  51. ^ William Dalrymple wins the Kapuściński Prize David Godwin Associates 14 September 2015
  52. ^ Kapuściński Prize for RETURN OF A KING Bloomsbury India's Twitter account 11 September 2015
  53. ^ "Mr William Hamilton Dalrymple CorrFRSE - The Royal Society of Edinburgh". The Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  54. ^ Dalrymple, William (8 March 2014). "BBC News - Is Afghanistan really impossible to conquer?". Bbc.com. Retrieved 11 August 2014.

External links[edit]