Obituary: Andro Linklater, writer and historian

Born: 10 December, 1944, in Edinburgh. Died: 3 November, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 68.
Andro LinklaterAndro Linklater
Andro Linklater

ANDRO Linklater was a prolific and gifted author, historian and journalist perhaps best known for his books and speeches on American history and on how land ownership has shaped society and politics around the world. Although he travelled extensively, settled in Kent and toured America promoting his books, his heart strayed rarely if ever from his native Scotland and he was writing a book about land ownership in the Hebrides when he suffered a heart attack on the island of Eigg. Apart from his career as an author, he wrote for magazines including the Daily Telegraph, Reader’s Digest, Prospect, the Spectator, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. One of his books, The Code of Love (2000), was premiered as a musical in England earlier this year. It is the true story of a woman’s quest to find out about the war trauma suffered by her fiancé and great love, an RAF pilot captured by the Japanese during the Second World War, through the diaries he had encrypted to thwart his captors.

Linklater’s latest book, Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership, is due to be published in the US by Bloomsbury next week and has already received excellent reviews. It is a chronicle, through history and across cultures, of how modern society has been shaped by the increasing spread of private land ownership over the centuries.

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His most famous and most highly acclaimed book was perhaps Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy (2002), which led to a series of further books and lectures on the same theme.

If the subject matter sounds academic, Linklater’s writing was not. It was crisp, colourful and praised by many of his peers including historian and author Antony Beevor. He described Linklater’s book Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die – about the 1812 assassination of British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval and the conspiracy theories surrounding it – as “a beautifully written portrait”.

Another of Linklater’s historic books was An Artist in Treason (2009), which chronicled the life of General James Wilkinson, commander of the US army in the late 18th century under President George Washington but who was later revealed to have been a double agent, giving secrets to the then great colonial enemy Spain.

Linklater was in much demand around the US to give talks about Wilkinson in bookstores and universities. Beyond his historical writing, Linklater often ventured into other fields, including the well-received Wild People: Travels with Borneo’s Head Hunters (1990).

His children’s book Amazing Maisie and the Cold Porridge Brigade (1978) became a favourite bedtime story of many a child, and parent, of the epoch. It tells of the adventurous little girl, Cosima, who wants to find a camel she can ride. She eventually finds Amazing Maisie, a camel who can talk but can’t bend its knees to let her on board.

Andro Ian Robert Linklater was born in Edinburgh on 10 December, 1944, the younger son of Eric Linklater, an award-winning, Welsh-born Scottish writer of novels, short stories and book on history and travel.

Andro’s elder brother is Magnus Linklater, a former editor of The Scotsman (1988-94) and former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council. The American actor Hamish Linklater is their nephew.

Andro went to Nigg school in Ross-shire and Belhaven Hill school in Dunbar before moving south to attend Winchester College and ultimately read Modern History at New College, Oxford.

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In 1968, he went to the United States to attend the democratic convention in Chicago, which became famous for its demonstrations, riots and police violence.

After working in an art gallery in San Francisco for a while, he returned to the UK to teach in a London comprehensive school.

After his father’s death in 1974, he turned to writing, initially to complete a history of the Black Watch begun by his father (The Black Watch: the history of the Royal Highland Regiment, published in 1977). He lived in tranquility on Isle Martin on Loch Broom off Ullapool for five years, where he completed Compton Mackenzie: a Life (1988), a biography of the great Scottish writer, author of Whisky Galore, who died in Edinburgh in 1972.

In 1987, Andro married Marie-Louise Avery, a photographer well known for her work in food and lifestyle photography. They settled in the village of Markbeech in Kent, where he was a church warden, sang with a hearty bass in the local choir and was involved in several youth charities.

When not writing, his other great love was painting and he enjoyed painting trips in the countryside with a group of close friends.

Andro Linklater died in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, from the heart attack he had suffered on Eigg. He is survived by his wife Marie-Louise, his brother Magnus and his sisters Alison and Kirstin.

His funeral will be held in Markbeech next Tuesday.

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