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Tech Q&A

Simon Winchester

Describe your latest project.
I am beginning a rather long book on Joseph Needham, the Cambridge biochemist who, in middle age, became enraptured with China, and edited seventeen volumes of the classic Science and Civilisation in China. My idea is to tell the story of China by standing on his shoulders, as it were — seeing and discovering the amazing story of the Middle Kingdom through Joseph Needham's eyes.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
Anything that captivates me.

Talk a little about your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
Harold Mann, my school geography teacher. He — bizarrely — made me remember the shape of meteorology's classic double depression by imagining the shape left by a Bactrian camel pressed upside down into a sand dune; but he also taught me enough geology to get me through the O level exam, when I was the only child taking the test. I owe him so much, since he changed the entire direction of my intellectual life.

Chess or video games?
Chess. But I started my twelve-year-old godson on chess, too, and now he beats me hollow.

What do you do for relaxation?
I climb mountains, the intention being to go Munro-bagging in Scotland, my best-loved place on the planet.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
Douglas, whom I knew.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
The Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Geography was the best. History the worst.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
Ruined. I regret to say it, but i doubt if anything that technology is bringing in its wake genuinely solves the graver problems of human society.

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