John Keay

Non-fiction writer


John Keay has been a professional writer, scholar and traveller for more than 40 years. Once a political journalist (principally for the Economist) and then a roving writer/presenter of documentaries for BBC Radios 3 and 4, he specialises in Asian history. His 25 books include the standard India:a history (HarperCollins, 2001, with 15 reprints and a new edition in 2010) and the ‘exquisitely written’ China: a history (HarperCollins, 2009). Into India (John Murray, 1973) remained in print for 30 years; his history of the East India Company is still in print after 20 years.

His other books range from contemporary histories of the Middle East, the Far East and South Asia to a two-volume account of the exploration of the western Himalayas and, as editor or co-editor, the Royal Geographical Society’s History of World Exploration (Hamlyn, 1991), the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland (HarperCollins, 1994, 2000) and the London Encyclopaedia (Macmillan, 3rd edition 2009). Several of his titles have been prize-listed, though none has ever won. In 2009 he was awarded the Royal Society for Asian Affairs’ Sykes memorial medal for his literary contribution to Asian studies. He reviews for the TLS, the Literary Review and Slightly Foxed. He also lectures both in the UK and to upmarket tour groups in South and South-east Asia.

John lives in the hills of Argyll, where he cooks indifferently and struggles to grow things. His wife Julia Keay is the author of several notable biographies, as is Anna Keay, the second of his four much-loved children.

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John Keay

Non-fiction writer


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  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 2013–2014
  • University of Dundee, 2010–2012