“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
With his keen-eyed observations, bestselling writer Pico Iyer is a chronicler of the desire to seek new frontiers and view familiar terrain through fresh eyes. “Arguably the world’s greatest living travel writer,” according to Outside magazine, he is the author of two novels and over a dozen works of nonfiction, including such enduring favorites as The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul. Iyer has been embraced by both spiritual seekers and startup entrepreneurs as a beacon of wisdom in a frenetic world. The Utne Reader included him alongside Noam Chomsky and Václav Havel as “one of 100 visionaries worldwide who could change your life.”
Iyer’s first book was completed while he was still working as a world affairs writer for Time. Video Night in Kathmandu chronicled his explorations across ten countries in Asia and the way these lands have been affected—or not—by the influence of Western culture. “A sensual feast of rich impressions,” according to The Los Angeles Times, Video Night in Kathmandu was praised for its refreshing wit, originality, and insight. In his subsequent travel writing, Iyer continues to meditate on the intensifying criss-crossings between East and West, past and present, projection and reality.
Iyer has given four popular TED Talks over the past decade, which together earned over ten million views. They have addressed the nature of home, a new approach to competition, and the virtue of not knowing. His book The Art of Stillness and accompanying TED Talk speak to the need to open up space in our crowded lives and remember what we care about most. He has spoken to audiences at Google, Coca-Cola, Fox Broadcasting, and the World Economic Forum in Davos, and universities including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
For nearly 45 years, Iyer has spent weeks at a time talking and traveling with the XIVth Dalai Lama: eating lunch with the Tibetan leader every day; attending all of his public engagements; and sitting in on his private audiences with old friends, religious leaders, political strategists, and scientists. It was that extraordinary intimacy that allowed Iyer to write the bestselling The Open Road, drawn from decades of talks and travels, which The New York Times Book Review called a “trenchant, impassioned look at a singular life.”
Iyer’s two most recent books are twinned works about his longtime adopted homeland of Japan. Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells is a far-reaching meditation on impermanence, mortality, and grief seeded in his part-time home of Japan, a country whose calendar is marked with occasions honoring the dead. Calling him an “exquisite memoirist,” The New Yorker noted that he “is a consummate tour guide, knowledgeable about his surroundings yet alert to all that might strike foreign eyes as unexpected or inexplicable…. [He] remains alert to beauty as well as to loss, but his book is replete with a quiet assuredness.” Journal of Books praised Autumn Light as “Profound…. Succeeds, with its deceptively quiet descriptions of autumn both in the natural world, and in the season of his and Hiroko’s own lives, in echoing a uniquely Japanese appreciation of the fleeting nature of time, as well as the humbling acceptance that nothing lasts.”
A very different yet complementary work, A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations, is a playful and profound guidebook into Japanese culture, released in anticipation of the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. “Rarely in any writing on Japan,” declared the Financial Times, “is provocation so elegantly and surgically performed.”
His books have been translated into 23 languages, and he has written liner notes for Leonard Cohen, a film script for Miramax, a libretto for a chamber orchestra, and the introductions to more than 60 other works. A regular essayist for more than a quarter-century for Time, The New York Times, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide, Iyer has reported extensively from more than 45 countries.
Iyer was born in Oxford, England to parents from India. He was educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, and earned master’s degrees from Oxford and Harvard as well as an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters. In 2019, he was a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton. Since 1992, he has been based in rural Japan with his wife, while spending part of each year in a Benedictine hermitage in California.
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