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I write mainly about Central Asia, in particular Mongolia. Why Mongolia? It’s a long story. The formal stuff is in Wikipedia. So here’s a short, informal version.


I am the child of Kentish villages, Rolvenden and Benenden. My mother was a founder member of Benenden School, which defined her life and her family’s. I’ve been escaping ever since. At 10 (in the early 1950s), I was a self-taught science geek. I knew the speed of light and how to spell diplodocus. Later, at the King’s School, Canterbury, I was good at German, thanks to an inspiring teacher. So: German (and French) at Oxford and a year in Vienna, which left me intrigued by the Iron Curtain, and what it hid. During a post-grad in the History of Science, I helped plan an expedition to Mongolia, because in the 1960s the far side of the Soviet Empire sounded exotic. To join the expedition I became the sole student of Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies. The trip was a crazy idea, and never happened, but it left me yearning to go.


Ambitious to know the world, I joined Reuters. A year in Bonn revealed a profound ignorance of recent history. To remedy this, I joined a magazine, The History of the 20th Century, working with two great historians, AJP Taylor and JM Roberts. That took me into publishing with Time Life Books, which showed me I was not suited to corporate life. A brief time in book-packaging led to years as a freelance, mostly in Oxford, raising a wonderful family, now grown and flown, then raising another in London, ditto. I wrote long-forgotten books for long-gone companies. I lived with a jungle tribe in Ecuador, ghosted, wrote thrillers and unmakable film-scripts.


At last, in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, I could go to Mongolia, and discovered an amazing land, amazing people, and an amazing history, all of which have formed a passion for the last 20 years. The results fill the rest of this website.

John Man has scholarly gifts as well as acute intelligence and a winning way with words

One couldn’t wish for a better storyteller or analyst

His ability to put us in the picture, to feel, smell and almost touch the surroundings he describes, is matched by his ability to tell a good story


Simon Sebag Montefiore

Michael Palin

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