Sunday, October 5 at 4:00 pm

Sunday Speaker Series: Simon Winchester

Winchester-MenWhoUnited coverWe are thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester to our Sunday Speaker Series.  Please join us on Sunday, October 5, 2014, at 4:00 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (29 Main Street, Stockbridge), when Mr. Winchester will discuss his most recent book, The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible.  

Simon Winchester has claimed many corners of the globe as his narrative terrain. From China to Indonesia, from the Balkans to his native England, he has explored the interwoven complexities of history, geography, biography and science in his New York Times bestselling books. With The Men Who United the States, this “extraordinarily graceful writer” (Time)—who realized a long-held dream and became an American citizen in 2011—looks at his adopted country through the lens of the inventors, innovators, and explorers who have bound the sprawling nation together, facilitating the unification of the American landscape and the forging of a disparate population into a shared national identity.

As he crisscrosses the country, often armed with little more than tent, compass, sleeping bag, and well-worn maps, Winchester retraces the footsteps of the daring, eccentric visionaries who literally left their mark on the nation. From explorers such as Lewis & Clark in the nation’s infancy to Thomas “The Chief” MacDonald, father of the Interstate Highway System in the twentieth century, he tells the stories behind the roads, canals, railways, telephone lines, power grids and even submerged rivers of electrons which connected a far-flung country and its people. Through these unifying achievements, these men—some famous, some forgotten—played a crucial role in uniting the states. Winchester organizes this sweeping saga of interconnections around the five so-called classical elements: Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal. The densely forested continent, the rivers that eased transportation and commerce, the copper of the telegraph cables and iron of the railroads, the titanium and cadmium and platinum of the Internet—all are essential components in this colorful history and travelogue.

As he constructs this vast, anecdotal history of our country’s unifying infrastructure, Winchester reflects on the central question of the successes and failures of the great experiment. “Just how has America’s uniquely stable union been achieved?” he asks. “What factors have been made and combined over the country’s nearly two and a half centuries that have allowed this to be so? How have they ensured that, say, a Chinese migrant in rain-swept Seattle can find himself locked in some near-mystical concord with a Sephardic Jewish woman in Manhattan or a Cherokee student in Minnesota or a Latina stallholder in a market in Albuquerque—and with all of them being able to enjoy the same rights and aspirations that are encapsulated in their mutual ability to declare so simply: I am an American?”

Photo by Setsuko Winchester

Photo by Setsuko Winchester

About the Author: Simon Winchester, author, journalist, and broadcaster, has worked as a foreign correspondent for most of his career so far, although he graduated from Oxford in 1966 with a degree in geology and spent a year working as a geologist in the Ruwenzori Mountains in western Uganda, and on oil rigs in the North Sea, before joining his first newspaper in 1967.

His journalistic work, mainly for The Guardian and The Sunday Times, HAD based him in Belfast, Washington, DC, New Delhi,  New York, London, and Hong Kong, where he covered such stories as the Ulster crisis, the creation of Bangladesh, the fall of President Marcos, the Watergate affair, the Jonestown Massacre, and assassination of Egypt’s President Sadat, the recent death and cremation of Pol Pot and, in 1982 the Falklands War.  During this conflict he was arrested and spent three months in prison in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, on spying charges.  He has been a freelance writer since 1997.

He now works principally as an author, although he contributes to a number of American and British magazines and journals, including Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Smithsonian, The National Geographic Magazine, The Spectator, Granta, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly.  He was appointed Asia-Pacific Editor of Conde Nast Traveler at its inception in 1987, later becoming Editor-at-Large.  His writings have won him several awards, including Britain’s Journalist of the Year.

He writes and presents television films – including a series on the final colonial years of Hong Kong and on a variety of other historical topics – and is a frequent contributor to the BBC radio program, From Our Own Correspondent.  Winchester also lectures widely – most recently before London’s Royal Geographical Society (of which he is a Fellow) – and to audiences aboard the cruise liners QE2, Seabourn Pride AND NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER.

His books cover a wide range of subjects, including a study of the remaining British Empire, the colonial architecture of India, aristocracy, the American Midwest, his experience of the months in an Argentine prison on spying charges, his description of a six-month walk through the Korean peninsula, the Pacific Ocean and the future of China.  Most recently he has written The River at the Center of the World, about China’s Yangtze River; the best-selling The Professor and the Madman, (to which movie rights are held by Mel Gibson); The Fracture Zone; A Return to the Balkans, which recounts his journey from Austria to Turkey during the 1999 Kosovo crisis; and the best-selling The Map that Changed the World, about the nineteenth century geologist William Smith.  His book, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 was published in April 2003 and A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 in the fall of 2005.  He followed in May 2008 with The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, and then Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories in May 2008.

Simon Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He received the honor in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Simon Winchester lives on a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and in New York City.

**Please note that this event will take place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 29 Main Street, Stockbridge.

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