Patrick French, the British writer known for his books about Tibet and India, and his biography of author V.S. Naipaul, has died at 56, the New York Times reports.

French, a native of Aldershot, England, was educated at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating with a Ph.D. in South Asian studies, he made his literary debut in 1994 with Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, a book about Francis Younghusband, the explorer who led the British expedition to Tibet in 1903 and 1904.

He went on to write Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division and Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, before publishing what is perhaps his best-known book, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul in 2008.

The book was a candid look at the life of the controversial author who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2001. It received a starred review from Kirkus, with a critic calling it an “eloquent and scholarly evidence that—no surprise—great writers need not be moral exemplars.”

French’s most recent book, India: A Portrait, was published in 2011.

Admirers of French paid tribute to him on social media. On Twitter, author Pico Iyer wrote, “The sharpest biographer of my generation, brilliant chronicler of Naipaul and Younghusband—Patrick French—is gone. It won’t be easy to find a better friend or a more thoughtful and agile writer. Our world is much smaller today.”

And historian William Dalrymple tweeted, “Heartbroken 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.”

Michael Schaub, a journalist and regular contributor to NPR, lives near Austin, Texas.