Robert Macfarlane, (born Halam, Nottinghamshire 15 August 1976), is a British travel writer and literary critic. Educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge and Magdalen College, Oxford, he is currently a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge.
Macfarlane's first book, Mountains of the Mind, was published in 2003 and won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. It is an account of the development of Western attitudes to mountains and precipitous landscapes, and takes its title from a line by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Macfarlane's book combines history with first-person narrative. He considers why people are drawn to mountains despite their obvious dangers, and examines the powerful and sometimes fatal hold that mountains can come to have over the imagination. The book owes an undisguised debt to the writings of Simon Schama and Francis Spufford, and its heroes include the mountaineer George Mallory.
Macfarlane's second book was Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature, which was published in March 2007. Exploring the difference between creation and invention, the book surveys the "borrowedness" of much Victorian literature, focusing on the writings of George Eliot, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, among others.
His third book The Wild Places was published in September 2007. In it he embarks on a series of journeys in search of the wildness that remains in Britain and Ireland . The book explores wildness both geographically and intellectually, testing different ideas of the wild against different landscapes, and describes Macfarlane's explorations of forests, moors, salt marshes, mudflats, islands, sea-caves and city fringes. A condensed version of the book was broadcast as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 in September 2007. In November 2007, the book won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and in June 2008 it won the Scottish Arts Council Non-Fiction Book Of The Year Award. In November 2008, it was joint winner of the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Festival, North America's equivalent of the Boardman Tasker Prize. It became a bestseller in Britain and The Netherlands, and was shortlisted for the Dolman Best Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Independent Booksellers' Award, the British Book Awards Non-Fiction Book Of The Year Award, and North America's Orion Book Award, a prize founded "to recognize books that deepen our connection to the natural world, present new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieve excellence in writing." <http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/mag/3003/>
Macfarlane is seen as the inheritor of a tradition of nature writing which includes John Muir, Richard Jefferies and William Cobbett, as well as contemporary figures such as John McPhee, Barry Lopez and Roger Deakin. He is generally grouped with a number of recent British writers who have provoked a new critical and popular interest in writing about landscape..
Macfarlane's interests in topography, ecology and the environment have been transmitted through his books but also through newspaper and magazine essays, notably his Common Ground series which was published in The Guardian in 2005. He has also published reportage and travel essays in magazines including Granta (issues 90, 101, 102) and Archipelago (issues 1 and 3).
In 2004 Macfarlane sat on the panel of judges for the Man Booker Prize, which selected Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty as that year's winner, and in 2005 he guest-edited and introduced The Mays anthology of new writing.