Colin Thubron
Colin Gerald Dryden Thubron, CBE
CBE and C.B.E. are abbreviations for "Commander of the Order of the British Empire", a grade in the Order of the British Empire.Other uses include:* Chemical and Biochemical Engineering...

 (born 14 June 1939) is a British travel writer and novelist.

In 2008, The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

 ranked him 45th on their list of the 50 greatest postwar British writers. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

, The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement is a weekly literary review published in London by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.-History:...

 and The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Thubron was appointed a CBE in the 2007 New Year Honours. He is a Fellow and, , President of the Royal Society of Literature
Royal Society of Literature
The Royal Society of Literature is the "senior literary organisation in Britain". It was founded in 1820 by George IV, in order to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent". The Society's first president was Thomas Burgess, who later became the Bishop of Salisbury...


Early years

Thubron is the son of Brigadier Gerald Thubron and of Evelyn (née Dryden), a collateral descendant
Collateral descendant
A collateral descendant is a relative descended from a brother or sister of an ancestor, and thus a niece, nephew, or cousin.Compare with lineal descendant....

 of the poet John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

. He was born in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and educated at Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

. Before becoming a writer he worked for five years in publishing in London and New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, and made independent documentary films that were shown on BBC television
BBC Television
BBC Television is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation, which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927, has produced television programmes from its own studios since 1932, although the start of its regular service of television...


The Middle East

Thubron's first travel book, Mirror to Damascus, was published in 1967, the first such book on the city for a century. It was followed the next year by The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon, a lyrical account of a journey through the country, pre-civil war, and the next year by Jerusalem. While starting a parallel career as a novelist, he completed a travel book on Cyprus, Journey into Cyprus, in 1974, just before Turkey invaded the island.

Russia and the farther East

In 1981, during the Brezhnev era, Thubron broke with his earlier work (on cities and small countries) and travelled by car into the Soviet Union, a journey recorded in Among the Russians. This was followed in 1987 by Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China (winner of the Hawthornden Prize
Hawthornden Prize
The Hawthornden Prize is a British literary award that was established in 1919 by Alice Warrender. Authors are awarded on the quality of their "imaginative literature" which can be written in either poetry or prose...

 and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award
Thomas Cook Travel Book Award
The Thomas Cook Travel Book Award originated as an initiative of Thomas Cook AG in 1980, with the aim of encouraging and rewarding the art of literary travel writing. The awards stopped in 2005...

), and in 1994 by The Lost Heart of Asia, the record of a journey through the newly-independent nations of Central Asia. In 1999 came In Siberia, an exploration of the farthest reaches of the ex-Soviet Union, and in 2007 perhaps his most ambitious book to date, Shadow of the Silk Road. This 7,000-mile journey from China to the Mediterranean encompasses cultures that have obsessed his working life: Islam, China, the old Soviet Union, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey.

In many ways Thubron's work harks back to an earlier age of travel writing. He is one of the last of the 'gentleman-travellers' - Eton-educated, erudite and willing to immerse himself in the countries in question for a long period of time. His journeys are tough and occasionally dangerous. But he is distinctive for his attention to languages, and his sympathetic encounters with local people.


Most of Thubron's novels are notably different from his travel books. Several describe settings of enforced immobility: a mental hospital, a prison, an amnesiac's mind. Notable among them are Emperor (1978), a study of the conversion of Constantine, A Cruel Madness (winner of the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award), and Falling (1989). Others, however, utilise travel or a fictional abroad: Turning Back the Sun (1991) and an imaginary journey to Vilcabamba in Peru: To the Last City (2002), long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It has been described as a "Heart of Darkness narrative" in a "Marquezian setting".

Selected works

  • Mirror to Damascus - Heinemann
    Heinemann (book publisher)
    Heinemann is a UK publishing house founded by William Heinemann in Covent Garden, London in 1890. On William Heinemann's death in 1920 a majority stake was purchased by U.S. publisher Doubleday. It was later acquired by commemorate Thomas Tilling in 1961...

    , 1967
  • The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon - Heinemann, 1968
  • Jerusalem - Heinemann, 1969
  • Journey into Cyprus - Heinemann, 1975
  • Jerusalem - Time-Life, 1976
  • Istanbul - Time-Life
    Time–Life is a creator and direct marketer of books, music, video/DVD, and multimedia products. Its products are sold throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia through television, print, retail, the Internet, telemarketing, and direct sales....

    , 1978
  • The Venetians - Time-Life, 1980
  • The Ancient Mariners - Time-Life, 1981
  • The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - Hamish Hamilton
    Hamish Hamilton
    Hamish Hamilton Limited was a British book publishing house, founded in 1931 eponymously by the half-Scot half-American Jamie Hamilton . Confusingly, Jamie Hamilton was often referred to as Hamish Hamilton...

    , 1982
  • Among the Russians - Heinemann, 1983
  • Behind the Wall: A Journey through China - Heinemann, 1987
  • The Silk Road: Beyond the Celestial Kingdom - Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster, Inc., a division of CBS Corporation, is a publisher founded in New York City in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. It is one of the four largest English-language publishers, alongside Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins...

    , 1989
  • The Lost Heart of Asia - Heinemann, 1994
  • In Siberia - Chatto & Windus, 1999
  • Shadow of the Silk Road, Chatto & Windus, 2006
  • foreword: Views From Abroad : The Spectator Book Of Travel Writing, edited by Philip Marsden-Smedley
    Philip Marsden
    Philip Marsden also known as Philip Marsden-Smedley is an English travel writer and novelist.Marsden has a degree in anthropology and worked for some years for The Spectator magazine. He became a full-time writer in the late 1980s...

     & Jeffrey Klinke - Grafton, 1988
  • foreword: The Lycian Shore by Freya Stark - John Murray, 2002
  • foreword: The Road to Oxiana
    The Road to Oxiana
    The Road to Oxiana is a travelogue by Robert Byron, first published in 1937. It is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing. The word "Oxiana" in the title refers to the region along Afghanistan's northern border.The book is an account of Byron's...

     by Robert Byron - Penguin, 2007
  • foreword: Stalin's Nose - by Rory MacLean
    Rory MacLean
    Rory MacLean is a Canadian travel writer living in the UK and Berlin whose best known works are Stalin’s Nose, a black and surreal travelogue through eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Magic Bus, a history of the Asia Overland hippie trail.-Biography:MacLean was born in...

     - Tauris Parke, 2008
  • foreword: The Travels of Marco Polo - Everyman, 2008
  • To a Mountain in Tibet, Chatto & Windus, 2011


  • The God in the Mountain - Heinemann, 1977
  • Emperor - Heinemann, 1978
  • A Cruel Madness - Heinemann, 1984
  • Falling - Heinemann, 1989
  • Turning Back the Sun - Heinemann, 1991
  • Distance - Heinemann, 1996
  • To the Last City - Chatto & Windus, 2002

Radio adaptations, stage and television

  • Emperor - BBC Radio 4, September 1984, with Martin Jarvis as Constantine and Juliet Stevenson as Fausta.
  • Great Journeys: The Silk Road - BBC 2 Television, presenter, 1989
  • The Prince of the Pagodas - ballet scenario, The Royal Opera House, 1989, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan.
  • A Cruel Madness - BBC Radio 4, May 1992, with Robert Glenister
    Robert Glenister
    Robert Lewis Glenister is a British actor known for his roles as con man Ash "Three Socks" Morgan in the British TV series Hustle, and Nicholas Blake in the BBC spy drama Spooks.-Career:...

     as Pashley and Harriet Walter
    Harriet Walter
    Dame Harriet Mary Walter, DBE is a British actress.-Personal life:She is the niece of renowned British actor Sir Christopher Lee, as the daughter of his elder sister Xandra Lee. On her father's side she is a great-great-great-granddaughter of John Walter, founder of The TimesShe was educated at...

     as Sophia.
  • The South Bank Show - Time seen as a Road, on Colin Thubron, ITV television, 1992'

Prizes and awards

  • Book Society Choice: Mirror to Damascus, 1967
  • PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award: A Cruel Madness, 1985
  • Hawthornden Prize: Behind the Wall: A journey through China, 1988
  • Thomas Cook Travel Award; Behind the Wall: A Journey through China, 1988
  • Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, 2000
  • Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 2001
  • Hon.DLitt University of Warwick, 2002
  • Vice-President, The Royal Society of Literature, 2003-9
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), New Year's Honours, 2007
  • Society of Authors Travel Award, 2008
  • President, The Royal Society of Literature, 2009-
  • Prix Bouvier, France: In Siberia, 2010

External links

  • Thubron author page and archive from The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

  • Susan Bassnett
    Susan Bassnett
    Susan Bassnett is a translation theorist and scholar of comparative literature. She served as pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Warwick for ten years and taught in its Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies, which closed in 2009...

    : Interview with Colin Thubron, Studies in Travel Writing, No 3, 1999
  • Interview: The Guardian:
  • Overview:
  • Interview: The Independent:
  • Interview: - United States
  • The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing ed. Hulme and Youngs, CUP, 2002, pp. 95–6
  • Interview: The Sunday Times:
  • The New York Review of Books: The Amazing Wanderer:
  • Review:
  • The Times:
  • Interview: 'The Geographical Magazine:
  • Debrett's People of Today
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