I am a writer, journalist and one-time academic. I gained a degree in Modern History (as the course starting in 400 A.D. was called) at Oxford University, and then a PhD in History at the University of London in 1988 – this was turned into my first book, Twilight of Truth, courtesy of Lord Weidenfeld. I then won a British Academy Junior Research Fellowship to study the origins of Thatcherism, very much the political style and philosophy that dominated the time when I was growing up, and this resulted in my third book, Thinking the Unthinkable.
In between, I managed to publish a couple of other books about the politics and the British press, the theme of my PhD thesis – My Dear Max, and David Astor and the Observer. I also found time to be a ghost writer – it was the early 1990s and there were many former Tory ministers (and even their own biographers) in need of varying degrees of help to sell their stories.
I then taught at London University for several years, mainly History, Politics and Political Philosophy. My main base was Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, in Egham, just west of London, but I also taught for brief periods at the London School of Economics and Imperial College. I also co-chaired the University seminar on Modern British History at the Institute of Historical Research for four years or so, and also helped to run the Institute of Contemporary British History.
In 1999 I left academia for the high-end journalism of The Economist newspaper. I started out writing about education and British politics, but quickly became a foreign correspondent. Thus I lived in Mexico City from 2002 to 2005, covering Mexico, Central America and the Carribean (someone had to…). After that I spent five years as Africa Editor and deputy Middle East Editor, based in London but spending about one-third of my time travelling in Africa. And then finally, from 2010 to 2015 I was South-East Asia correspondent for the paper, based in Singapore, but travelling widely to China, Korea, Burma (Myanmar), India, Thailand and the other ASEAN countries..
Out of these two postings came my last two books. Sudan; Darfur and the Failure of an African State was published by Yale University Press in 2010, and a second edition will come out next year, updating the book to take account of the partition of the country into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011.
My latest book, Blood, Dreams and Gold, the Changing Face of Burma, is published in September 2015, also by Yale. This book is the fruit of my many trips through Burma as the country as opening up after 2011. It is part history, part travelogue and part political analysis. The aim was to give an accessible account of this extraordinarily diverse, complex and fascinating country in one volume, suitable as much for the educated tourist as for the professional student of South-East Asia. I hope that, like my Sudan book, there will be a second edition as events unfold there, so I am hoping that readers will write in with their comments, suggestions, and critiques of the book.
Running up to the publication of the book, I wrote many pieces about Burma, and all aspects of politics and contemporary affairs in Asia. You can find references to these on the Articles page of this website.