My Influences

In writing a travel and philosophy book dealing with humanity’s cultural and political evolution, in addition to physically exploring the world, it was necessary to do a lot of reading.

For those interested in world history, global society, cultural and technological evolution, the wider human project or the worldview expounded in The Jolly Pilgrim, below are a list of my key intellectual influences, in rough order of importance.

In the explanations of individual writers, scientists and historians (they’re all writers, scientists and historians; and all men, worryingly) are links to some of the individual books which were important to me.


Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan was an astronomer, cosmologist and (in my view) the greatest scientific communicator who has ever lived. Anyone familiar with Sagan’s work will recognise his profound influence on The Jolly Pilgrim. Key books include: Cosmos, about the human project in the context cosmic evolution (a book that is to popular science what Hamlet is to the stage play); Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a tour de force on evolutionary psychology; and The Dragons of Eden, the book which first got be interested in anthropology, when I was 15.


Clive Ponting
Clive Ponting is a writer, academic and former civil servant. His World History: A New Perspective remains the best mainstream history book I‘ve ever read. In the book, Mr Ponting lays out, with extraordinary lucidity, the long continuum of human history, and how economic, demographic and (in particular) technological changes have driven all other social and political changes since the development of agriculture. Mr Ponting shaped my understanding of world history more than any other writer.


Steven Pinker
Professor Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the department of Psychology at Harvard University, specialising in language and cognition. His 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature enormously deepened my understanding of contemporary civilisation and modern history. The book sets out a penetrating and enlightening narrative of developments in human societies over recent centuries, via a mixture of philosophy, evolutionary psychology, narrative history and mountains of data.


Marcus Aurelius 
Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor between 161 CE and 180 CE and a stoic philosopher. His book, Meditations, has been the most influential book of pure philosophy in shaping my convictions regarding morality and a well-lived life – convictions I attempted to put into practice in the journey recorded in The Jolly Pilgrim.


Paul Collier
Paul Collier is Professor of Economics, and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economics, at Oxford University. He has greatly affected my thinking on economic geography and development, primarily through his book The Bottom Billion. His more recent The Plundered Planet was also relevant to the ideas in The Jolly Pilgrim and on this website – dealing with how to raise-up the poorest parts of the world in an environmentally sustainable way.


Ibn Khaldun of Tunis
Ibn Khaldun was a fourteenth- and fifteenth-century historiographer, historian, philosopher and polymath genius. I came to his most famous work, Muqaddimah (Prolegomenon, in English), looking to understand his path-breaking influence on sociology and economics. However, it was his remarkable writing on God and religion which were actually most affecting to me.


Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond is an American writer and scientist, who is professor of geography at the University of California. His famous book Guns, Germs and Steel is an eye-opening look at the development of human civilisation and how geography has affected human culture, and technological and social progress. His ideas are heavily paraphrased in the sections of The Jolly Pilgrim dealing with deep history.


Robert Wright
Robert Wright is a journalist and scholar whose book Nonzero (a review of human cultural evolution) I read some years after writing The Jolly Pilgrim. Despite being almost entirely familiar with the ideas discussed in Nonzero prior to reading it, it had an enormous effect on me, due to its breadth of scope and cutting-edge analyses of the underlying patterns of history. His interviews on major world thinkers on the subject of religion have also been very influential on me


J. A. Roberts
J. A Roberts was a British historian. He had a major influence on the way I think about world history, particularly through his book A History of Europe.


Nicholas Wade
Nicholas Wade is science journalist who works for The New York Times. His extraordinary book Before the Dawn, which I read after finishing The Jolly Pilgrim, is a review of our understanding of prehistory after humans became behaviourally modern – as that understanding stands at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell is an economist and social theorist. His book Economic Facts and Fallacies was crucial to the narrative of economic history and economic geography set out in The Jolly Pilgrim.


Max Rodenbeck Max Rodenbeck is a journalist and writer based in Cairo. I read his book Cairo: The City Victorious as research for trip to Egypt in 1999. It’s paints a biography of Cairo through a jigsaw of anecdotes and historical passages, covering the great metropolis’ modern, medieval and ancient life. The book was a key influence on The Jolly Pilgrim‘s double-narrative structure.


Angus Maddison
Angus Maddison was a specialist on quantitative macroeconomic history. He was one of the world’s most important economic historians and his work provided the foundation for the data on civilisation’s economic development through the last millennium, on which The Jolly Pilgrim draws.


Lawrence Keeley
Lawrence Keeley is professor of archaeology at the University of Illinois. He was one of the key academics to first demonstrate the decline of violence since prehistory (summarised in his book War Before Civilisation). His work challenged the previously oft-accepted notion that civilisation was degenerative to the human spirit – a challenge to oft-accepted thinking entirely embraced in The Jolly Pilgrim.


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