Simon Winchester, OBE (born 28 September 1944), is a British author and journalist who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel and his articles appear in several travel publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian Magazine, and National Geographic. Simon Winchester lives in New York and on a farm in Massachusetts.
Simon Winchester was born in the autumn of 1944 in northern London. Winchester attended several boarding schools in Dorset and in 1963 went up to St Catherine's College, Oxford to study geology. He graduated in 1966 with a degree in geology and found work with Falconbridge of Africa, a Canadian mining company. His first assignment was to work as a field geologist searching for copper deposits in Uganda.
While on assignment in Uganda, Winchester happened upon a copy of James Morris' Coronation Everest — an account of the 1952 expedition which led to the first successful attempt to climb Mount Everest. Inspired by the book and with a desire to be a writer, Winchester sought career advice from Morris by mail. Morris urged Winchester to give up geology and get a job as a writer. Shortly after, Winchester left Africa and returned to England eventually finding work at The Journal in Newcastle upon Tyne.
In 1969, Winchester joined The Guardian, first as regional correspondent based in Newcastle upon Tyne, but was later assigned to be the Northern Ireland Correspondent. Winchester's time in Northern Ireland placed him around several events of The Troubles, including the events of Bloody Sunday and the Belfast Hour of Terror.
After leaving Northern Ireland in 1972, Winchester was briefly assigned to Calcutta before becoming The Guardian's American correspondent in Washington, D.C., where Winchester covered news ranging from the end of the Nixon administration to the start of Jimmy Carter's presidency. In 1982, while working as the Chief Foreign Feature Writer for The Sunday Times, Winchester was on location for the invasion of the Falklands Islands by Argentine forces. Suspected of being a spy, Winchester was held as a prisoner in Tierra del Fuego for three months.
In 1985, Winchester shifted to work as a freelance writer and travelled to Hong Kong. When Condé Nast re-branded Signature magazine as Condé Nast Traveler, Winchester was appointed the Asia-Pacific Editor. Over the next decade and a half, Winchester contributed to a number of travel publications including the aforementioned Traveler, as well as National Geographic and Smithsonian magazine. With the success of Winchester's books in the late 1990s, he has largely retired from journalism.
Winchester's first book, In Holy Terror, was published by Faber and Faber in 1975. The book drew heavily on his first hand experiences during the turmoils in Ulster. In 1976, Winchester published his second book, American Heartbeat, which dealt with his personal travels through the American heartland. Winchester's third book, Prison Diary, was a recounting of his imprisonment at Tierra del Fuego during the Falklands War and, as noted by Dr Jules Smith, is responsible for his rise to prominence in the United Kingdom.
Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Winchester produced several travel books, most of which dealt with Asian and Pacific locations including Korea, Hong Kong, and the Yangtze River.
Winchester's first truly successful book was The Professor and the Madman (1998) published by Penguin UK as The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Telling the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, the book was a New York Times Best Seller, and the rights to a film version were optioned by Mel Gibson ; likely to be directed by John Boorman.
Though he still writes travel books, Winchester has repeated the narrative non-fiction form he used in The Professor and the Madman several times, many of which ended in books placed on best sellers lists. His 2001 book, The Map that Changed the World focused on geologist William Smith and was his second New York Times best seller. 2003 saw Winchester release another book on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Meaning of Everything, as well as the best-selling Krakatoa: The Day the World Erupted. Winchester followed Krakatoa's volcano with San Francisco's 1906 earth quake in A Crack in the Edge of the World. The Man Who Loved China (2008) retells the life of eccentric Cambridge scholar Joseph Needham who helped to expose China to the western world.
Simon Winchester's latest book Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean is expected to be released in October, 2010.