Dalrymple in 2014
20 March 1965
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Cambridge|
|Subject||India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East, Eastern Christianity, Muslim World, Christian-Muslim relations, religious syncretism|
William Dalrymple FRAS FRSL FRGS FRSE (born William Hamilton-Dalrymple on 20 March 1965) is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as an award-winning 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 five 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.
In 2012 Dalrymple was appointed a Whitney J. Oates Visiting Fellow in the Humanities by Princeton University. In the Spring of 2015 he was appointed the OP Jindal Distinguished Lecturer at Brown University. In 2018 he was awarded the President's Medal of the British Academy.
Dalrymple is the son of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, 10th Baronet, and Lady Anne-Louise Keppel, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Albemarle. He is 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 went to Delhi on 26 January 1984. 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, 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.
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 travel writers such as Robert Byron, Eric Newby, and Bruce Chatwin.
Dalrymple published a book of essays about current affairs in the Indian Subcontinent, 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, The Guardian, the New Statesman and The New Yorker. He has also written many articles for Time magazine. He has been the Indian Subcontinent correspondent of the New Statesman since 2004.
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. 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.
Return of a King- The Battle for Afghanistan, a history of the First Afghan War 1839–42, was published in India in December 2012, in the UK in February 2013, and in the US in April 2013. Dalrymple's great-great-granduncle 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 the Afghan President Hamid Karzai 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. A catalogue of this exhibit co-edited by Dalrymple with Yuthika Sharma was published by Penguin in 2012 under the same name.
His most recent book, published in 2019, is The Anarchy, a history of the Indian Subcontinent during the period from 1739 to 1803, which saw the collapse of the Mughal imperial system, rise of the Maratha imperial confederacy, and the militarisation and rise of power of the East India Company.
Dalrymple has written and presented the six-part television series Stones of the Raj (Channel 4, August 1997), the three-part Indian Journeys (BBC, August 2002) and Sufi Soul (Channel 4, Nov 2005).
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 Ganga, 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.
He has done a six-part history series The Long Search for Radio 4. 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, based on Dalrymple's book White Mughals.