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William Dalrymple (historian)

William Dalrymple
Dalrymple in 2014
Born (1965-03-20) 20 March 1965
Scotland, United Kingdom
Occupation Writer, historian
Nationality British
Period 1989–present
Genre History, travel
Subject India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East, Eastern Christianity, Muslim World, Christian-Muslim relations, religious syncretism
Spouse Olivia Fraser
Children 3

William Dalrymple FRSL, FRGS, FRAS[1] (born William Hamilton-Dalrymple on 20 March 1965) is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a prominent broadcaster and critic.

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 has been four times longlisted and once shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. He is also one of the co-founders and co-directors of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival.[2][3][4]

In 2012 he was appointed a Whitney J. Oates Visiting Fellow in the Humanities by Princeton University.[5] In the Spring of 2015 he was appointed the OP Jindal Distinguished Lecturer at Brown University. [5]


  • Personal life 1
  • Interests and influence 2
  • Bibliography 3
  • Popular culture 4
    • TV and radio 4.1
  • Awards and honours 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Personal life

Dalrymple is the son of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, 10th Baronet, and a cousin of Virginia Woolf. He was educated at Ampleforth College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was first a history exhibitioner and then a senior history scholar.

Dalrymple first came to Delhi in 26 January 1984.[6] Dalrymple has lived in India on and off since 1989 and spends most of the year at his Mehrauli farmhouse in the outskirts of Delhi,[7] but summers in London and Edinburgh. His wife Olivia is an artist and comes from a family with long-standing connections to India. They have three children, Ibby, Sam, and Adam.

Interests and influence

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, the Muslim world, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains and early Eastern Christianity. All of his eight 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 the travel writers such as Robert Byron, Eric Newby, and Bruce Chatwin. More recently, Dalrymple published a book of essays about current affairs in South Asia, and two award-winning histories of the interaction between the British and the Mughals between the eighteenth and mid nineteenth century. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books,[8] The Guardian,[9] the New Statesman[10] and The New Yorker.[11] He has also written many articles for Time magazine. He has been the South Asia 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.[12] He is a Patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.[12]

His 2009 book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, was published by Bloomsbury, and went to the number one slot on the Indian non-fiction section best-seller list.[13] 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 be an incarnation of the God Vishnu.[14]

His most recent book, a history of the First Afghan War 1839–42, Return of a King- The Battle for Afghanistan, was published in India in December 2012,[15][16] and in February 2013 appeared in the UK. The US edition was published by Knopf in April 2013. (Dalrymple's great-great-granduncle Captain 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 President Karzai of Afghanistan, and the White House, on the lessons to be learned from Afghan history.

Dalrymple was also the curator of Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707–1857, a major show of the late Mughal and Company School painting for the Asia Society in New York, which ran from February to May 2012.[17] A catalogue of this exhibit co-edited by Dalrymple with Yuthika Sharma was published by Penguin in 2012 under the same name.[15]

He is currently working on The Anarchy, a history of South Asia during the period 1739–1803 which saw the collapse of the Mughal imperial system and the militarisation and rise of power of the East India Company.[18]



  • 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

Popular culture

TV and radio

Dalrymple has written and presented the six part television series Stones of the Raj (Channel 4, August 1997),[19] the three part Indian Journeys (BBC, August 2002)[20] and Sufi Soul (Channel 4, Nov 2005).[21]

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 river Ganges, 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.[22]

He has done a six-part history series The Long Search for Radio 4.[23] In this series Dalrymple searches to discover the spiritual roots of the British Isles. As 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 an acclaimed documentary on 3 September 2015 entitled Love and Betrayal in India: The White Mughal,[24] based on Dalrymple's book White Mughals.

Awards and honours

  • In Xanadu received the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and the Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award.[25]
  • City of Djinns received the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award.[26]
  • From the Holy Mountain received the 1997 Scottish Arts Council Autumn Book Award.[27]
  • The Age of Kali (1998) won the 2005 French Prix d'Astrolabe.[28]
  • White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India (2002) won the 2001 Wolfson Prize for History.[29]
  • Dalrymple was awarded the Mungo Park Medal in 2002 by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his outstanding contribution to travel literature.[30]
  • The television series Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys, which Dalrymple wrote and presented, won him the Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series at BAFTA in 2002.[31]
  • The Long Search, Dalrymple's BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British spirituality and mysticism, won the 2002 Sandford St Martin Prize for Religious Broadcasting and was described by the judges as "thrilling in its brilliance...near perfect radio."[30]
  • White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India (2002) won the 2003 Scottish Book of the Year Prize.[29]
  • Dalrymple's article on madrasas of Pakistan was awarded the prize for Best Print Article of the Year at the 2005 FPA Media Awards.[32]
  • The Sykes Medal in 2005 from the Royal Society for Asian Affairs for his contribution "to understanding (of) contemporary Islam."[33]
  • An Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Honoris Causa, from the University of St. Andrews in 2006 "for his services to literature and international relations, to broadcasting and understanding."[34]
  • The Last Mughal won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize for History and Biography in February 2007.[8]
  • Dalrymple received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Honoris Causa, from the University of Lucknow in 2007 "for his outstanding contribution in literature and history."[35]
  • The Last Mughal won the 2007 Vodafone Crossword Book Award for best work in English non-fiction.[36]
  • An Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Honoris Causa, from the University of Aberdeen (2008.[37]
  • The 2008 Colonel James Tod Award given by the Maharana Mewar Foundation for achieving excellence in his field.[38]
  • Nine Lives received the 2010 Asia House Award for Asian Literature.
  • The Media Citizen Puraskar by the Indian Confederation of NGOs for emphasising as an author issues of global importance and concern.[39]
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bradford for his contributions to creative writing, literature and the south Asian history fields (2012)[40]
  • Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Edinburgh.[41]
  • The 2015 Hemingway Prize for the Italian version of Return of a King.[42]
  • The 2015 Kapuściński Prize for Return of a King.[43][44]


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  5. ^ a b Short-Term Visiting Fellows, Princeton University retrieved 1 October 2012.
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  15. ^ a b William Dalrymple`s book on first Anglo-Afghan war out in December Zee News
  16. ^ Author William Dalrymple takes a swipe at the Empire Daily Mail 7 December 2012
  17. ^ Princes and Painters, Asia Society retrieved 4 October 2012.
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  24. ^ A love story that broke the conventional boundaries of Empire BBC September 2015
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  41. ^ University Of Edinburgh graduates The Scotsman 30 June 2015
  42. ^ Bloomsbury is Delighted to Announce That the Italian Edition of William Dalrymple's Return of a King The Telegraph 23 June 2015
  43. ^ William Dalrymple wins the Kapuściński Prize David Godwin Associates 14 September 2015
  44. ^ Kapuściński Prize for RETURN OF A KING Bloomsbury India's Twitter account 11 September 2015

External links

  • William Dalrymple's Home Page
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