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For most of my life as a writer,
I’ve written about human conflict.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of servicemen and women and their families about their experiences of war.

I’ve listened to the civilian victims of atrocities and the survivors of holocausts.


I’ve seen people at their most compassionate, ordinary men and women enacting the most powerful expression of self-sacrifice: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’


As a historian, I try to hear the whisper of the past. It rises from the pages of a soldier’s diary. Or from a mother’s letters. Or from a strategist's maps. It hisses from the checklist of a desk-killer.


I try to locate and resurrect those voices, of the unknown soldier, the unheard woman, the disappeared civilian, the child in time … the littlest of the dead. All are valid witnesses to the pageant of the past.


These experiences have taught me something about human nature in extremis without which I could not have written The Soul: A History of the Human Mind.


How did I become a historian and writer? In the 1990s I was something of an entrepreneur. I co-published two financial newsletters, Governance and The Money Laundering Bulletin.


I was also a part-time ‘freedom fighter’, as editor of Amnesty International’s British journal. I later became a financial journalist and then foreign correspondent for a British national newspaper.


When I turned 40, I returned to my greatest love as a boy: history. I had studied economic history at the London School of Economics. This helped. Since then, I’ve written 14 books, culminating in The Soul. A few have reached the screen: Hiroshima Nagasaki is being made into a 6-part TV series by an American-British-Australian production team. Vietnam and Kokoda inspired two award-winning docudramas.


From time to time, I teach narrative history at Sciences Po, France’s preeminent school for the humanities.


The intense curiosity on my students’ faces I will always cherish, because intellectual curiosity is our strongest defence against superstition and ‘certainty’.


My books may seem intimidating. They tend to be about people who gave their lives so that we might live. Or who devoted their minds to understanding our world.


The least we can do is try to understand them.




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