Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Geographic Expeditions: Simon Winchester

An invitation from Bridget Lackie of Geographic Expeditions landed in my email inbox a few weeks ago, announcing a literary event at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center, in which the incomparable Simon Winchester would talk about his upcoming book on China.

The event was held on the evening of Wednesday Sept 26th, and was extremely well attended by invitees who -to my mind at least- seemed to fit a certain profile: globetrotting travelers, Sinophiles and avid travel book readers. The talk was preceded by cocktails where everyone mingled and shared travel stories.

As background: Simon Winchester is a best-selling British author, and a journalist who spent a twenty-year career as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, and who has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian Magazine, and National Geographic and book reviews for The New York Times. He occasionally lends his voice to the New York Times multimedia slideshows.

Interviewed by Don George, (Editor of Geographic Expeditions' Recce Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler ), the talk lasted an hour and was so enjoyable that it felt like a few moments. Both are pros at this sort of thing, and they immediately drew us into an intimate armchair conversation between two old friends.

While the conversation touched on Simon Winchester's experiences in China, it was mostly about his forthcoming biography about the British biochemist and Chinese science scholar Joseph Needham. Needham's exhaustive writings on China examined why it had been overshot by the West in science and technology, despite its earlier successes.

An exteremely enjoyable and enlightning evening, made so by an experienced storyteller and his interviewer who captivated their audience. Interestingly, Simon's forthcoming book on Joseph Needham is still title-less...and he asked the audience to suggest one to him, provided it didn't contain the words 'barbarian' or 'dragon'!