Author and Journalist
"Writing is among the greatest inventions in human history,
perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible."
This opening of my book, The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms, I wrote in 1995. Today, writing--its origins, its five millennia of history since proto-cuneiform, its cognitive science and its amazing online expansion since the 1990s--still fascinates me.
As an author over the past three decades or so I have written, for both general and academic publishers such as Bloomsbury, Oxford University Press, Picador, Reaktion, Thames & Hudson and Yale University Press, more than twenty-five books. Many of them mingle the humanities and the sciences, for example:
As a journalist, I've contributed features and reviews on subjects as various as British earthquakes, German physics under the Nazis and Indian art cinema to leading magazines and newspapers. For example:
Overall, my books and journalism have embraced: Archaeology, Art, Biography, Cinema, Creativity, Decipherment, Environmental Science, Genius, Geology, History, Linguistics, Literature, Medicine, Physics, Polymathy and Writing Systems.
The exquisite ancient sealstone displayed above and to the right involves archaeology, art, decipherment, history, linguistics and writing systems. It dates from the enigmatic Indus civilisation (2600-1900 BC), first excavated in 1920s India, which I feature in a chapter of
Lost Languages and in The Indus: Lost Civilizations. A 'unicorn' stands before what may be an incense burner, beneath four tantalising signs--maybe spelling the seal-owner's name? We don't know, because Indus writing remains undeciphered, despite long study by diverse experts and numerous claims of decipherment. Indus script is the world's most deciphered script! See my Nature article, "Cracking the Indus Script".
The books cover three principal areas of knowledge:
for example, The Story of Measurement
for example, Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction
for example, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye
They range in period and setting from pre-history (Earthshock), Egyptian antiquity (Cracking the Egyptian Code) and ancient Greece (The Man Who Deciphered Linear B), to modern times in Britain (Einstein on the Run), in India (Rabindranath Tagore) and across the entire planet (Earth-Shattering Events).
Seven are biographies, of artists such as Satyajit Ray and scientists such as Albert Einstein, and the polymath Thomas Young. Physician, linguist and physicist, Young was revolutionary in deciphering human vision, the Rosetta Stone and the physics of light; he also named the "Indo-European" family of languages. Hence the title of my Young biography: The Last Man Who Knew Everything.
Their publishers in the United Kingdom and the United States--both general and academic--have been as follows:
Many books have been translated into a wide variety of languages:
Reviews and comments about my books have come from distinguished artists and writers, scholars and scientists, including five Nobel laureates: Philip W. Anderson (physics), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (physics), V. S. Naipaul (literature), Ilya Prigogine (chemistry) and Amartya Sen (economics).
For example, from the arts and humanities:
(actor and film-director, who performed for Satyajit Ray)
[letter to author]
(photographer, artist and writer)
"a fascinating book"
[letter to author]
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?"
(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."
(biographer and historian of India)
"a triumphant work of scholarship, expertly annotated and
[review in The Daily Telegraph]
(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
(singer-songwriter, satirist and mathematician)
"clearly an extraordinary book"
[letter to author]
(writer and novelist, and Nobel laureate)
"an extraordinarily good, detailed and selfless book"
(Egyptologist and writer)
"This is a spirited account of a fascinating subject: the birth of
Egyptology ... written with verve, elegance and perception."
[review in The Financial Times]
And from the sciences:
(physicist, and Nobel laureate)
"It is wonderful to have such an elegant biography of this
"A well-researched and very readable book about a less well-
known period in Einstein's life"
(cosmologist, and Nobel laureate)
"The entire book was a revelation to me ... it brings out very
clearly that Tagore was intellectually more perceptive than
(geochemist, environmentalist and writer)
"a wonderful compilation of the things that can happen when
our planet does no more than turn in its long sleep"
(astronomer and writer)
"by far the best book about Einstein that I have ever come
[review in BBC Sky at Night]
(geophysicist and writer)
"a truly welcome, and refreshing, study that puts earthquake
impact on history into a proper perspective"
(physical chemist, and Nobel laureate)
"a fascinating book about a fascinating man, a work that
addresses the profound conflict between eastern spirituality and
(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."
[review in The Lancet]
See the Books page of this website for further reviews and comments about the above-mentioned books, plus other books.
Einstein on the Run: How Britain Saved the World's Greatest Scientist was published in hardback by Yale University Press in autumn 2019 in the UK and USA. A paperback is scheduled for publication in spring 2021. See the full jacket, and read an excerpt from the book in Time magazine.
Here is a sketch of the book. 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 Einstein's general theory of relativity by British astronomers' observations of a solar eclipse in 1919, which launched him as an international star.
I wrote an article about the 1919 eclipse centenary, "The experiment that made Einstein famous" (download article) in The Wall Street Journal, and two reviews of books about the centenary: "The eclipse that made Einstein famous" in Science, and "A relative revolution" in Physics World.
Plus general-interest articles on many different aspects of Einstein:
Reviews and comments about Einstein on the Run include:
(Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, quoted on the jacket of the
(Barbara Kiser, Nature)
(Ian Randall, Physics World)
(Emily Winterburn, BBC Sky at Night)
(Andrew Crumey, Wall Street Journal)
--a beguiling mix of idealism and down-to-earth opinions, free of
pretensions or pomposity."
(P. D. Smith, The Times Literary Supplement)
Listen to an interview with me, "Einstein on the run", on Cool Science Radio, KPCW.
As a journalist--and Literary Editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement from 1994-2006--I have written features and reviews for newspapers and magazines in the UK and the USA. See examples on the Journalism page of this website.
General magazines and journals include:
Science magazines and journals include:
Plus entries for The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
I have also appeared on BBC Radio and BBC Television, and acted as a consultant for two BBC TV programmes, on Satyajit Ray (1988) and Michael Ventris (2002), based on my biographies of Ray and Ventris.
TALKS AND LECTURES
I give talks and lectures at academic institutions, literary festivals, museums and related events, at 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 the Talks and Lectures page of this website.
I 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, I was a King's Scholar of Eton College from 1970-74. I hold degrees from University College, Oxford (in chemistry) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London (in South Asian area studies). From 2006-10, I was a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. I am a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. My father, F. N. H. (Neville) Robinson, was a physicist at the University of Oxford from the 1950s to the 1990s.
I have received a number of academic grants, notably:
I 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. In 2007, I became a full-time writer of books and journalism.
Read my articles, "Polymathic pursuits" and "Entangled with Einstein", in The Author, and hear me talking about polymathy (based on my biography of Thomas Young, The Last Man Who Knew Everything), on BBC Radio 4.
Contact address: andrew[at]andrew-robinson.org
Copyright © 2016 Andrew Robinson. All rights reserved.