Simon Winchester, OBE, a British writer, journalist and broadcaster, was born in north London on 28th September 1944, the only child of Bernard and Andrée Winchester (née deWael).
Though not Catholic, he was educated first at a boarding convent in Bridport, Dorset and later at Hardye's School, Dorchester, Dorset. After taking time off to hitch-hike around Canada and the United States for almost a year between leaving school and entering university, he went up to Oxford in 1963, to read geology at St. Catherine's College.
After graduation in 1966 he joined a Canadian mining company, Falconbridge of Africa, and worked as field geologist in Uganda, looking for copper deposits in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, close to the border with Congo.
He then made a sudden and unexpected switch to journalism in 1967, a short while after reading, while in a jungle camp in Uganda, a copy of Coronation Everest by James (now Jan) Morris. After being employed on an offshore oil rig in the North Sea for some months, all the while applying for work on a variety of newspapers which, not unreasonably, displayed little interest in hiring so inexperienced a candidate, Winchester was eventually offered the chance to work as a junior reporter on The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.
In 1969 he joined The Guardian, first as the Newcastle upon Tyne-based regional correspondent and later as Northern Ireland Correspondent, based in Belfast. He was also briefly detached from Ireland to Calcutta, to undertake his first foreign assignment for the newspaper, covering the war that led to the independence from Pakistan of the new Bengali homeland of Bangladesh.
In 1972 he was posted to Washington, DC, as America correspondent, and spent much of the following four years covering the Watergate affair, the resignation of President Nixon and the election to the White House of Jimmy Carter. It was also during this period that, on the urging of the noted Faber editor Charles Monteith (who edited the poet Philip Larkin and discovered William Golding's Lord of the Flies) Winchester wrote his first book, In Holy Terror, an account of his reporting years in Ireland.
It was in New York that his recent good fortune as an author began, with the publication in 1998 of The Professor and the Madman, a book about a forgotten American player in the extraordinary story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. His most recent book is The Man Who Loved China, about the life of the remarkable Cambridge scholar-eccentric Joseph Needham. Next October will see the publication of Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean, Winchester's 21st book.
He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) 'for services to journalism and literature' in the New Year Honours list for 2006. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St. Catherine's College, Oxford, in October 2009.
Simon Winchester, who is married to the former NPR producer Setsuko Sato, lives in New York and on a small farm in the Berkshires. His interests include letterpress printing, bee-keeping, astronomy, stamp-collecting, model railways and cider-making.
About This Biography
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In two separate articles Simon Winchester discusses The Man Who Loved China, Krakatoa and The Professor
and The Madman.
A Back-Story to The Man Who Loved China
A Coincidence Most Curious and Telling
During the final months of 2006, when I was starting the actual writing of this book, I found I had developed a habit: I would ask peopleall sorts of people, relatives and friends, complete and total strangersif they had ever heard of the man about whom I was writing: Joseph Needham. I thought I had fair reason. I had no doubt but that, considering his extraordinary achievements in helping the world understand the enigma that is China, he should by rights be a vastly famous man. Yet I had to accept that he was not and that most people would look back blankly on being asked, What do you know about Joseph Needham? So I thought that by asking around, by trying to find out just how well or how little he was known, I would come to realize the magnitude of the task that lay ahead of mewhich was helping to make him just as well-known as his achievements suggest he deserves. What sort of people did know of him, I wondered, and what kind did not? Such knowledge would, I thought, allow me ...
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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