Alan Macfarlane was born in Shillong, India, in 1941 and educated at the Dragon School, Sedbergh School, Oxford and London Universities where he received two Master’s degrees and two doctorates. He is the author of over forty books, including The Origins of English Individualism (1978) and Letters to Lily: On How the World Works (2005). He has worked in England, Nepal, Japan and China as both an historian and anthropologist. He was elected to the British Academy in 1986 and is now Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and a Life Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.
More about Alan can be found on his website: http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/
Alans lectures and website, many of which explore topics covered in his publications, can be found on the Cambridge University website. Explore Alan’s videos and lectures here.
How We Understand the World
Alan has spent the last sixty years trying to understand the world. He has studied for two doctorates at Oxford and London and travelled through Nepal, Japan and China. Here Alan describes what he have found about asking questions, guessing, testing, assembling evidence, creative writing and the conditions of creativity.
Throughout he academic life Alan has been asking questions about the nature and origins of our individualistic, capitalist, industrial world. In the 1990's he started to examine a number of great thinkers who had devoted their whole lives to trying to answer these questions, from Montesquieu onwards. In each book Alan explores the ways a thinker or thinkers try to understand the birth and growth of the modern world. They have each looked outside their own time and culture to try to find the deeper laws and tendencies, the accidents and patterns, which have governed the development of societies and civilizations. In particular he has been interested to explore the relationship between the life and the work of each thinker, how their experiences and work methods shaped their theoretical contributions.
Works on Cambridge
Cambridge University is one of the oldest, most beautiful and most distinguished universities in the world. It is associated with many of the world's greatest scientists, poets, historians, economists, social scientists and philosophers, as well as famous students such as Xu Zhimo, from around the world.
Alan Macfarlane has taught in the University for almost fifty years and is a Life Fellow of King's College. Drawing on this experience, and applying the methods of history and anthropology, he has written a number of books, from a longer overview, to short illustrated guides (with detailed maps) about the University and King's College. They take the reader inside this extraordinary institution and are enriched by links to many films on the internet.
A page on Alan’s website, dedicated to the exploration of Cambridge and featuring video tours through the town can be found here.
Understanding the East and the West
This is a series of books trying to explain some of the main civilisations to each other. The four main civilisations covered are described in the book 'China, Japan, Europe and the Anglo-sphere: A Comparative Analysis'(2018). English civilisation is explained in two books: 'The peculiarity of the English; A personal view' (2019) and 'Understanding the English; A personal A-Z' (2019).
The Invention of the Modern World
This is a book which synthesizes a lifetime of reflection on the origins of the modern world. Through forty years of travel in Europe, Australia, India, Nepal, Japan and China, Alan Macfarlane has observed the similarities and differences of cultures. It is also based on a wide reading of contemporary and classical works in history, anthropology and philosophy. Among the topics covered are the following: war, trade and empire; modern technology, the origins of capitalism; caste and class; kinship, friendship and population; civil society; power and bureaucracy; education, language and art. It ends by explaining how the English deviated from the normal path of civilizations and by accident created many of the basic features of our modern world. It is based on the Wang Gouwei lectures at Tsinghua University given in 2011.