Roger Osborne

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Roger Osborne is a writer, publisher, geologist and educator. Best-known for his historical books, he has explored new ways of seeing and understanding the past, while at the same time writing for the broadest possible readership. At the same time Osborne has written a series of guide books exploring the interconnections of landscape, geology and history of the area of North Yorkshire where he lives.

He has given talks and seminars at the ICA, the Institute of Ideas, and at various universities, colleges and literature festivals. He teaches courses in a variety of subjects including landscape studies, geology and writing.

In 2006 Roger Osborne set up High Tide Publishing with his partner Janis Bright. High Tide publishes online information and commentary on cultural events and activities, focussing on Scarborough and the Yorkshire coast, and provides education and training in writing and production skills. High Tide is a Community Interest Company, re-investing profits in the local community.

Civilization: A New History of the Western World (January 2006)

In this ambitious and important book Roger Osborne shows that we can only understand and take comfort in our civilization by re-examining and confronting our past. The barbarity in Western history can no longer be explained away as base human brutality breaking through the restraining bonds of civilization. Instead we need to see that civilization is itself a hazardous enterprise, creating enormous challenges to humans as moral social beings -- challenges that we sometimes fail.

Civilization tells the story of the western world from its origins to the present. Sweeping in its scope and comprehensive in its coverage, Civilization covers everything from the siege of Troy to the Gettysburg address, from Charlemagne to the European Union and from Aristotle to Wittgenstein. Filled with the voices of the past the book ends with an assessment of the present state of western civilization in the light of its past –and an indication of how it might go about the urgent task of renewing itself. At such a dangerous time in the world’s history this remarkable and compelling book is required reading.

Reviews
‘It is a bold adventurer who proposes to survey the history of the Western civilization in a mere 500 pages, and not only to say something fresh about many aspects of it, but to do so in a spirit of perceptive scepticism that refuses to go along with standard views and reflex valuations. Roger Osborne offers himself this challenge and meets it brilliantly.’ A.C. Grayling, Independent on Sunday

‘It would be hard to imagine a more readable general history of the West that covers so much ground so incisively.’ William Grimes, New York Times

‘Roger Osborne’s absorbing blockbuster… is an admirable achievement: a coherent narrative that gallops from the painting of the Lascaux buffalo to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, from the Beaker people to the McDonald’s people, in fewer than 500 crisply written pages.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘I know of no other book that so clearly and comprehensively explains such a diverse array of philosophers, including Democritus, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Hegel, Marx and Wittgenstein . . . An immensely important book and an exhilarating read.’ Gregor Dallas, Literary Review

‘Urgent, compelling, breathtaking in scope, Osborne's Civilization confronts the vital question of our time.’ John Carey

‘Osborne’s book is a blessing…. Two weeks in, and the year’s first necessary book is with us.’ Christopher Bray, Daily Telegraph


In 1998 Roger Osborne published The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology.  As well as being an extraordinary critical and commercial success, the book deliberately overturned received wisdom about how to relate the history of science to a general readership.

‘I was always fascinated by the history of science, but frustrated by the clichéd biographies of great men of genius overcoming huge odds to find triumph and glory. We all know that life is not like that, and science is not like that either. So I set out to write a book that would be enchanting for readers, but would also draw on the richness and complexity of the past, and use the voices of our predecessors. I was trained as a geologist and the Yorkshire coast is my adopted home, so I brought them together in this book.’

Reviews
‘A wonderful tome . . .beautifully structured . . . utterly fascinating. Reading The Floating Egg is a captivating experience because there is at least one surprise in every chapter. Roger Osborne has combined portions of history, biology, architecture, palaeontology, astronomy – and a large dose of humour – and produced the fascinating story of how geology came to be.’ Richard Ellis, The Times

‘If you have never read a book about geology and didn’t think you were interested, Roger Osborne could change your life . . . He succeeds magnificently in communicating his enthusiasm.’ Independent on Sunday

‘Can I urge you to buy, borrow or beg a copy of this wonderful book about how the town of Whitby and the surrounding area were critical to the development of the science of geology.’ Beverly Guardian

‘This book is a real gem, beautifully illustrated, charmingly told and informative. It is a book that will linger in the memory and provide you with a lifelong passion for the subject.’ Ottakar’s Book Of The Month

‘A wonderful introduction to the history of geology and to geological history.’ Dr Robin Nicholson, Yorkshire Geology Society

The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge and Deceit in French Indo-China, published in 1999, combined the classic whodunnit with an unsolved case of scientific fraud. Jacques Deprat was one of France’s most gifted young scientists – a geologist en route to a great future. Posted to colonial Hanoi in 1909 he was accused of scientific fraud and sent home to face trial and disgrace. Astonishingly, he constructed a new life as one of France’s best novelists before dying in a mountaineering accident that he had apparently foretold. New investigations in France have thrown doubt on Deprat’s conviction – was he set up, or was there simply no fraud at all?

‘I came across Jacques Deprat by chance and immediately wanted to write about his extraordinary life. As well as seeing him as a fascinating individual, I was attracted by the fact that the case remains unresolved. I wanted to pose the fundamental question: How do we go about understanding someone’s life, or writing their biography, when the central fact of their guilt or innocence remains unknown? Biographers too easily assume that character predicts actions, I think the Deprat Affair shows that this is often an illusion.’

Reviews
‘Immensely readable and beautifully written . . . A detective story without a solution.’ Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph

‘I can think of no other story that so well illustrates the ambiguous boundary between science and fiction . . . A sad tale of a remarkable man.’ Richard Fortey, London Review of Books

‘A fascinating whodunnit. The Deprat Affair reveals a story worthy of Hercule Poirot . . . snobbery, ambition, petty rivalry and intrigue.’ Glasgow Herald

‘A classically twisted tale of petty jealousy and colonial snobbery . . . with a violent denouement.’ New Scientist

‘As lucid as a crisp cold day . . .a mystery story without a solution.’ Scotsman

In The Dreamer Of The Calle San Salvador: Visions of Sacrilege and Sedition in Sixteenth-Century Spain (2001) Roger Osborne takes a radical approach to exploring the past. Lucrecia de Leon was a young woman living in Madrid in the 1580s who experienced a series of astonishing and vivid dreams, which she related to her priest. She dreamt of the defeat of the Armada, the ravaging of Spain by the Moors and the English, and the death of Philip II. The transcripts of the dreams have been preserved, and form the core of this powerful and innovative book. Osborne attaches commentaries to the dreams, which comprise a history of this climactic era in Spanish history.

‘I am fascinated by the way we construct dreams by weaving narratives out of the random sensations we experience during sleep. We experience the past in similarly random ways – from memories, books, paintings, documents, buildings etc – and then endeavour to make meaningful stories that we call history. I use Lucrecia’s dreams to show that this is how history is made, but I also wanted to bring these wonderful visions to a wider audience. The last dream in the book, for example, is one of the most beautiful and moving narratives I have ever come across.'

Discover The North York Moors (2007)  is the official guide book to the North York Moors National Park. Lavishly illustrated, it makes the perfect introduction to this extraordinary place. Each chapter focuses on a different part of the National Park, delving into its geology, history and culture, wildlife, scenery and people.

The Dinosaur Coast (2001) gives a beautifully illustrated journey of discovery along the famous Yorkshire heritage coast. A voyage through geological time is combined with fascinating glimpses of the history and geological connections of places along this beautiful coast.

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