ANDREW ROBINSON

Photograph by Jonathan Bowen

Author and Journalist

Andrew Robinson is the author of more than twenty-five books, aimed at both general and academic readers. They cover three main areas:

  • Science and the History of Science 

        for example, Einstein on the Run;

  • Archaeology and Scripts 

        for example, The Story of Writing;

  • Indian History and Culture

        for example, The Indus.

 

They include seven biographies, of both scientists and artists--ranging from the physicist Albert Einstein and the physician/polymath Thomas Young, through the archaeological decipherers Jean-François Champollion and Michael Ventris, to the Indian film-director Satyajit Ray and the Indian writer/artist Rabindranath Tagore. For instance:

        (a biography of Thomas Young);

        (a biography of Jean-François Champollion);

 

Many of the books have been translated from English into a wide variety of languages:

  • thirteen European languages;
  • Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Taiwanese and Vietnamese. 

 

Their trade and academic publishers in the United Kingdom and the United States of America include:

  • Bloomsbury, Oneworld, Picador, Plume (Penguin), Reaktion and Thames & Hudson;
  • Cambridge University Press, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press, Princeton University Press, University of California Press and Yale University Press.

 

Creative and expert figures from both outside and inside the academic world have appreciated the books. For example, from the arts and humanities:

  • Richard Attenborough

        actor and film-director, on Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema:

        "quite magical"

 

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson

        photographer and artist, on The Story of Writing:

        "a fascinating book"

 

  • Prof. Brian Fagan

        archaeologist and writer, on The Indus:

​        "Everyone interested in ancient civilizations should read this

        eloquent, closely argued biography (it is nothing less) that brings

        the Indus people in from the historical shadows.


  • Patrick French

​        writer and historian, on Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore:

        "a triumphant work of scholarship, expertly annotated and

        beautifully designed"

 

  • Prof. Diana Kormos-Buchwald

        historian and director of the Einstein Papers Project,

        on Einstein on the Run:
        "This is a jewel of a book, to be read by anyone interested in 
        Albert Einstein, his science, his peripatetic existence, his joys and
        travails."


  • Tom Lehrer

        singer-songwriter, satirist and mathematician,

        on The Last Man Who Knew Everything:

        "clearly an extraordinary book"

 

  • V. S. Naipaul

        writer and novelist (and Nobel laureate),

        on Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye

        "an extraordinarily good, detailed and selfless book"

 

  • Prof. John Ray

        Egyptologist and writer, on Cracking the Egyptian Code:

        "This is a spirited account of a fascinating subject: the birth of

        Egyptology ... written with verve, elegance and perception"

 

And from the sciences:

  • Prof. Philip W. Anderson

        physicist (and Nobel laureate),

        on The Last Man Who Knew Everything:

        "It is wonderful to have such an elegant biography of this

        remarkable man."  

 

  • Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

        astrophysicist, on Einstein on the Run:

        "A well-researched and very readable book about a less well-

        known ​​period in Einstein's life"

 

  • Prof. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

        cosmologist (and Nobel laureate), on Rabindranath Tagore:

        "The entire book was a revelation to me."

       

  • Arthur C. Clarke

        physicist and science-fiction writer, on Lost Languages
        "Andrew Robinson has now followed up his beautifully illustrated

        The Story of Writing with a highly appropriate sequel: Lost 

        Languages, on undeciphered scripts. Many, it seems likely, will 

        never be deciphered—which raises an interesting question. If we 

        cannot always understand messages from our fellow humans

        —how successful will we be when we receive the first

        communication from Outer Space?"


  • James Lovelock

        geochemist, environmentalist and writer, on Earthshock

        "a wonderful compilation of the things that can happen when our

        planet does no more than turn in its long sleep"

 

  • Patrick Moore

        astronomer and writer, 

        on Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity

        "by far the best book about Einstein that I have ever come

        across"

    

  • Prof. Amos Nur

        geophysicist and writer, on Earth-Shattering Events:

        "a truly welcome, and refreshing, study that puts earthquake

        impact on history into a proper perspective"​​


  • Prof. David Weatherall

        physician and geneticist, on The Scientists:

​        "This excellent celebration of the evolution of science over the

        centuries should be of broad interest to scientists and non-

        scientists alike—it will also be a wonderful stimulus to young

        people thinking about a career in science."

 

For further comments, see Books, and the back cover of The Last Man Who Knew Everything.

 

 

CURRENT BOOK

 

Einstein on the Run: How Britain Saved the World's Greatest Scientist was published by Yale University Press in September 2019 (UK) and October 2019 (USA). See the full jacket, and read an excerpt from the book in Time magazine.

 

Britain inspired the young Einstein's physics in the 1890s; it made him world famous in 1919; and it saved his life from Nazi death threats by offering him sanctuary in 1933. This biographical study is the first account of Einstein's fruitful and complex entanglement with Britain--scientific, cultural and political--from the 1890s until his death in 1955. It was published during the centenary of the confirmation of his general theory of relativity by British astronomers' observations of a solar eclipse in 1919, which launched Einstein as an international star.

 

AR wrote an article about the centenary, "The experiment that made Einstein famous" (download article) in The Wall Street Journal (February 2019); and two reviews of books about the centenary, "The eclipse that made Einstein famous" in Science (May 2019), and "A relative revolution" in Physics World (September 2019).

 

See also his recent general-interest articles on many aspects of Einstein:

 ​

Published reviews of the book include the comments:​

  • "a sparkling study"

        (Barbara KiserNature)

  • "Besides the scientific and political contexts of Einstein's life, Robinson's writing beautifully invokes the free-spirited professor's playful personality, charm and good humour ... Robinson's superb work remains compelling throughout."

        (Ian RandallPhysics World)

  • "This is certainly an engaging book, written by a seasoned biographer, Andrew Robinson, and filled with interesting insights backed up with pictures, poems and quotes from the main protagonists. ... [It] feels a curiously timely book, looking at what it meant to be politically outspoken in a time of political uncertainty."

        (Emily WinterburnBBC Sky at Night)

  • "highly readable... with [Einstein's] stint hiding out in Norfolk serving as an entertaining climax."

        (Andrew Crumey, Wall Street Journal)

  • "Robinson's study of Einstein offers a fascinating account of his relationship with Britain. It is rich in unfamiliar and memorable anecdotes from his visits, that cast fresh light on his personality

        --a beguiling mix of idealism and down-to-earth opinions, free of

        pretensions or pomposity."

        (P. D. SmithThe Times Literary Supplement)

     

Listen to an interview with AR, "Einstein on the run", on Cool Science Radio, KPCW (21 November 2019).

 

 

JOURNALISM


As a journalist--and Literary Editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement from 1994-2006--AR has written features and reviews for many national newspapers and magazines in the UK and the USA. See Journalism.

 

Newspapers include: 

The Daily TelegraphThe Financial TimesThe GuardianThe IndependentThe New York TimesThe Times and The Wall Street Journal.

 

Science magazines and journals include: 

Antiquity, Current World Archaeology, E&T (Engineering and Technology), (BBC) Science FocusGeoscientistThe LancetNatureNew ScientistPhysics World and Science.


Other magazines, journals and websites include:

AeonBBC History MagazineBritish Museum MagazineHistory Today, The London Library MagazineMinervaThe Journal of the Royal Asiatic SocietyThe SpectatorSight and SoundThe Times Higher Education Supplement and The Times Literary Supplement.

Plus entries in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

He has also appeared on BBC Radio and BBC Television, and acted as a consultant for two BBC TV programmes based on his research for his biographies of Satyajit Ray and Michael Ventris.

 
TALKS AND LECTURES


AR gives talks and lectures at academic institutions, literary festivals, museums and related events, in venues such as the Ashmolean Museum, the British Library, the British Museum, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Hay Festival of Literature, the Oxford Literary Festival, the Royal Institution and the University of Oxford. See Talks and Lectures.

 

His lecture, "The origins of writing" at the British Museum in January 2019, packed out both of the theatres at the museum.

 

Watch his lecture, "Cracking ancient codes" at the Royal Institution in June 2019.

 

He recently joined the Advisory Council of the Friends of the British Museum in London and the Advisory Board of Planet Word, a museum of language and writing due to open in Washington DC in 2020.

 

 

EDUCATION AND CAREER


An alumnus of the Dragon School, Oxford, AR was a King's Scholar of Eton College. He holds degrees from University College, Oxford (in chemistry) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London (in South Asian area studies). From 2006-10, he was a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. His father, F. N. H. (Neville) Robinson, was a physicist at the University of Oxford from the 1950s to the 1990s.

He has received a number of academic grants towards his research, notably a fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, a research grant from the British Academy, and a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study creativity, genius and breakthroughs in the arts and sciences.

He was on the staff of Macmillan Publishers from 1979-82, Granada Television from 1983-88 and the independent television production company Brian Lapping Associates from 1989-90, and was Literary Editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement in London from 1994-2006. He has extensive experience of editing reviews, essays and books written by authors in fields ranging from physics through finance and cookery to literature. In 2007, he became a full-time writer of books and journalism.

Read his articles about his career, "Polymathic pursuits" and "Entangled with Einstein", in The Author, and his Wikipedia entry, and listen to him talking about polymathy (based on his biography of Thomas Young, The Last Man Who Knew Everything​), on BBC Radio 4 in 2017.

 

 

CONTACT ADDRESS

andrew[at]andrew-robinson.org