William Dalrymple was born in Scotland in 1965, and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Cambridge where he was first History Exhibitioner then Senior History Scholar.
In 1986, while still at college, he set off to follow on foot the outward route of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Mongolia and wrote a highly acclaimed bestseller about the journey, In Xanadu, when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for five years researching his second book, City of Djinns, which won the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. From the Holy Mountain, his acclaimed study of the demise of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homeland, was awarded the Scottish Arts Council Autumn Book Award for 1997; it was also shortlisted for the 1998 Thomas Cook Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. A collection of his writings about India, The Age of Kali, won the French Prix D’Astrolabe in 2005.
In 1999, he changed genres and after four books of travel, concentrated on the writing of history. White Mughals was published in 2003, and the book won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson Prize, in 2003. It was also awarded the Scottish Book of the Year Prize, and was shortlisted for the PEN History Award, the Kiryama Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The book is to be made into a major motion picture, directed by Academy Award Winner, Ralph Fiennes. The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857, described as 'a masterpiece' in the New York Review of Books, won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize for History and India’s leading literary award, the Vodafone/Crossword award for Non Fiction. It was also longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.
Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, published in 2009, won the Asia House Literary Award and was again longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Wendy Doniger wrote of it in the TLS, ‘A glorious mix of anthropology, history and the history of religions, packaged in writing worthy of a good novel…Not since Kipling has anyone evoked village India so movingly. Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off this astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy.’ On the release of the book, Dalrymple toured the US, the UK, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Holland and Australia with a band consisting of some of the Indian and Pakistani mystics featured in his book, including Sufis, Fakirs, Bauls, Theveram hymn singers and a prison warder and part-time Theyyam dancer widely believed to be an incarnation of the God Vishnu, performing music and poetry from the book; the tour culminated in a sell-out performance in the Sydney Opera House.
In 2011 Dalrymple has curated and released a CD, The Rough Guide to Sufi Music (2011)
A frequent broadcaster, he wrote and presented three television series Stones of the Raj (Channel 4), Sufi Soul (Channel 4) and Indian Journeys (BBC/PBS), the last of which won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series at BAFTA in 2002. His Radio 4 series on the history of British spirituality and mysticism, The Long Search, won the 2002 Sandford St Martin Prize for Religious Broadcasting and was described by the judges as ‘thrilling in its brilliance. ’
In 2002 he was awarded the Mungo Park Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his ‘outstanding contribution to travel literature’. He received the Sykes Medal in 2005 from the Royal Society for Asian Affairs for his contribution "to understanding contemporary Islam." In March 2008, he won the James Todd Memorial Prize and in 2011, was awarded the Media Citizen Puraskar by the Indian Confederation of NGOs for emphasizing as an author issues of global importance and concern. In December 2005 his article on the madrasas of Pakistan was awarded the prize for Best Print Article of the Year at the 2005 Foreign Press Association Media Awards
He has three honorary doctorates of letters, from the University of St Andrews ‘for his services to literature and international relations, to broadcasting and understanding,’ from the University of Lucknow University ‘for his outstanding contribution in literature and history’, and from the University of Aberdeen ‘for his contribution to the writing of the history of India.’ Two more, from the Universities of Chichester and Bradford, will be received next year.
William Dalrymple is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Asiatic Society, and is a founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the Guardian, the TLS, and the New York Review of Books, and is the India correspondent of the New Statesman.
He has just finished The Return of a King: the First Battle for Afghanistan 1839–42, about the First Anglo-Afghan War, due to be published in India in December 2012, in the UK in February 2013 and in the US in April 2013. He co-curated a major exhibition on Late Mughal Art, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707–1857 for the Asia Society in New York, to ran from Februrary to May 2012. He is currently the Whitney J. Oates Fellow in Humanities at Princeton University.
William is married to the artist Olivia Fraser and they have three children. They now live on a farm outside Delhi.