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Robert Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane teaches at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination won the Guardian First Book Award.

The men who invented flight

Robert Macfarlane, 5 February 2004

It’s hard, in our age of budget flights and short hops, to appreciate the glamour of early aviation. Yet for fifteen years or so – from the late 1890s until the opening months of the Great War – powered flight was one of modernity’s greatest romances.

Wilbur and Orville Wright, bicycle makers from Ohio, became famous as the Wright Brothers, but at first it was only...

Vanishing Victorians

Robert Macfarlane, 18 December 2003

“Food ran out while they were still days from safety, and the men were forced to eat lichen, their belts and their boots (which they boiled up to make leather soup). Nine men died of starvation. One of the French-Canadian guides, suspected of cannibalism, was executed.”

The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher

Robert Macfarlane, 4 April 2002

Several years ago, Philip Hensher decided that he wanted ‘to do something impossible: to write a 19th-century novel’. To that end, he has composed each of the many chapters of The Mulberry Empire, which fictionalises the First Afghan War of 1839-42, in imitation of a 19th-century prose writer. He has gleefully scrumped the styles of Dickens, Surtees, Tolstoy, Custine, Thackeray,...

The Panchen Lama

Robert Macfarlane, 29 November 2001

The Tibetan Government presently sits in exile in McLeod Ganj, a small town outside Dharamsala separated from Tibet itself by the ramparts of the Himalayas. The Dalai Lama escaped there in 1959, after a major uprising against the Chinese occupation. A microcosm of old Lhasa has formed in the town around the nucleus of the Dalai Lama: schools teach in Tibetan and English, there are various...

Mao Badges and Rocket Parts

Robert Macfarlane, 23 August 2001

It was said that The Little Red Book had ‘supplied the breath of life to soldiers gasping in the thin air of the Tibetan plateau; enabled workers to raise the sinking city of Shanghai three-quarters of an inch; inspired a million people to subdue a tidal wave in 1969, a group of housewives to reinvent shoe polish, and surgeons to sew back severed fingers and remove a 99 pound tumour as...

Errant Pinkies

Robert Macfarlane, 1 June 2000

Ha Jin’s Waiting, a love story set in China at the time of the Cultural Revolution, won last year’s US National Book Award for Fiction, and has just received the less munificent, but classier, PEN/Faulkner Award. Dubbed, then, on both shoulders – once by the book-buying public, once by the literati. This is surprising, given that in places the novel is strikingly badly written. Why has it done so well?’

Robert Macfarlane

David Craig, 23 September 2015

This book​ is almost parodically characteristic of Robert Macfarlane’s work. He is a scholar of place – of terrain, terroir, the land – and at times references, sources and...

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Walking England

David Craig, 20 December 2012

Both these books, in very different ways, are founded on what we experience when we frequent wild country – sometimes virgin, more often partially domesticated. We leave our prints on it,...

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The Cult of the Wild

Kathleen Jamie, 6 March 2008

What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! From Cambridge! Here to boldly go, ‘discovering’, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes...

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