OPN Patrick French
Prominent British writer and historian Patrick French has died following a four year battle with cancer Image Credit: Twitter/Patrick French

Patrick French, public intellectual, award-winning biographer and historian, well known for his acclaimed works on India, is dead.

The author, who was battling cancer, passed away on Thursday in London at the age of 56.

French was born in London in 1967 and educated at the University of Edinburgh and University College London.

He began his writing career as a travel writer, publishing his first book “Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer” in 1994. The book was a biography of the British explorer and soldier Francis Younghusband, who led a military expedition to Tibet in 1904.

An expert on India

In 1998, French published “Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division,” which chronicled the history of India’s struggle for independence from British rule. The book won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

French’s other books include “The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul” (2008), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and “India: A Portrait” (2011), a sweeping history of India that was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

French was also a journalist, writing for publications such as The Guardian, The Times, and The New York Review of Books. He was a regular contributor to The New York Times and served as the editor of the literary magazine Prospect.

Sympathetic but critical eye

French was widely respected for his ability to delve into complex and often controversial subjects, such as the legacy of British imperialism in India and the life of the Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul. He was known for his rigorous research, lucid prose, and sympathetic but critical eye.

Tributes to French poured in from the literary world. Historian and author William Dalrymple tweeted, “Heart-broken to hear about the death of Patrick French, who I have loved and admired since we were both thirteen, and who was the Best Man at my wedding. He was funny & clever & charming, always full of enthusiasm & energy. He was also the greatest biographer of our generation..”

Writer and journalist Ramachandra Guha wrote, “Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Patrick French. He was a wonderful writer, whose books on Francis Younghusband and VS Naipaul are classics of modern biographical writing. He was also a very fine human being, unfailingly generous to friends and strangers alike..”

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was among the first to offer his condolences, “Profoundly saddened by the news of the passing of @PatrickFrench today. Have just spoken with his mother-in-law @NamitaGokhale_ to express my condolences. My heart goes out to @MeruGokhale and their 4 year old son Krishna. We have lost an outstanding writer & fine human being. RIP”

Patrick was married to Meru Gokhale, formerly the Editor in Chief at Penguin Random House India, and the daughter of author Namita Gokhale.

He was appointed Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Professor for the Public Understanding of the Humanities at Ahmedabad University in 2017.