Books by John Simpson

Released: Oct. 25, 2016

"A captivating celebration of a life among words."
A witty memoir from a dictionary editor who insists he is not a "word lover." Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

A memorable report of a monthlong 1992 expedition to Peru, featuring daring, drugs, and despotism. BBC reporter Simpson (Despatches from the Barricades, 1991) loves a good story, and Peru—source of most of the world's cocaine and home of both the relentless Shining Path guerrilla movement and an army unburdened by procedural niceties—seemed like a natural place to find one. He planned, with a group of colleagues, to cover the drug problem and the political situation for the BBC and other news organizations. But before describing this trip he whets readers' appetites with engaging preliminary tales of a trip from Brazil to visit forest-dwelling Indians and his subsequent negotiations from London over the logistics of the Peruvian trip. Arrived in Lima, Simpson and his team learn that the Peruvian police have captured Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. Simpson's interviews show the manhunt leader to be one of the government's few committed democrats, while President Alberto Fujimori, who has suspended the constitution, wriggles out of tough questions. Navigating Peru's coca-growing region, an area off-limits to foreigners, Simpson's team, aided by a brave Peruvian journalist and some rickety forms of transport, has several adventures: They take testimony about army human-rights violations, meet a former official willing to testify about army corruption, and escape some menacing local army potentates, whom they manage to film before fleeing. Amid the tension, there is macabre humor, as when a Peruvian journalist composes for Simpson a fawning letter asking to interview a local drug lord (``Our news...has 99 per cent credibility among the people of Europe''). Simpson leaves Peru after getting the country's vice president, Maximo San Roman, on camera calling Fujimori ``the front man'' for a regime linked with drug traffickers. A good yarn with an appealing protagonist that inspires sadness for the Peruvian people and much distaste for their government. (8 pages b&w photos) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1991

A gripping narrative of the revolutions that swept Central and Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the extraordinary events in China and South Africa in 1989-90. BBC reporter Simpson (Inside Iran, 1988, etc.) seamlessly joins telling detail and lucid analysis to capture the pathos and politics of modern revolution. Before 1989, he writes, going behind the Iron Curtain was like stepping through the looking glass. Governments supposedly erected in the name of the people controlled, repressed, and abused the people and were always backed by the threat of Soviet force. Enter Mikhail Gorbachev talking perestroika and glasnost, and ``the Communist leadership of each of these countries was effectively left on its own. And since none of them was there by popular will, it was only a matter of time and chance how they collapsed....'' By comparing previous visits to these repressive states, Simpson vividly describes how conditions became ripe for change in the Eastern bloc countries and elsewhere. When the Soviets cut back aid to the African National Congress in 1988, the US could no longer claim to be supporting the government against Communist insurgents. When Gorbachev visited Beijing after Hu Yaobang's death, the rebellious students were spurred on to a showdown in Tiananmen Square. Ninety b&w photographs and twelve maps help illustrate what Simpson saw. Coupled with the text, the result is first-rate journalism, with the reporter as reflection of, and eyewitness to, history. Read full book review >