James McConnachie was brought up in London and now lives in Winchester, UK, with his wife and two daughters. He studied at Jesus College, Oxford, where he was a scholar and received a first in English. He was nominated for Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2008 and has written fortnightly reviews of esoteric history and popular science for The Sunday Times ever since. He is currently editor of The Author, the quarterly journal of the Society of Authors, and is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund. He has presented TV and radio programmes for the BBC and Channel 4, including From Our Own Correspondent, and has given talks and lectures at the V&A, Cambridge Wordfest and other venues. He is a director of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and the Copyright Licensing Agency, and is a passionate advocate of authors' rights.

For commissions and any comments on his books or articles, please email books AT mcconnachie DOT net. He tweets at @j_mcconnachie. He is represented by David Godwin.

Rough Guides

Now in paperback
Published by Rough Guides

The Rough Guide to Sex

Zoe Strimpel in The Observer
"a comprehensive, fearless book, part socio-history and part manual… A history of courtly love jostles with Samuel Pepys’s masturbatory diary, lesbianism through the ages, how to choose a dildo and the merits of plastic vaginas… One of the most refreshing, and valuable, aspects of the book is its feminism… The whir of facts, stories, eras, oddities, myths and practical advice makes your head spin dangerously. But on the whole, sex is contextualised here with great flair and variety, and it’s a work that is well worth reading"

The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories

Bevis Hillier in The Spectator
"unusually intelligent and laced with black humour… One at once begins to feel confidence in writers who can frame such a finely phrased definition. They revel in ‘the sheer creative and iconoclastic energy of the conspiracist world’."

The Rough Guide to Nepal


The Rough Guide to the Loire

The Rough Guide to Paris

posted : Friday, March 28th, 2008

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The Book of Love

In Search of the Kamasutra

Now in paperback
Published by Metropolitan, US
Atlantic Books, UK

Book Jacket

An engaging, enlightening “biography” of the ancient Hindu manuscript that became the world’s most famous sex manual

The Kamasutra is one of the world’s best-known yet least-understood texts, its title instantly familiar but its actual contents widely misconstrued. In the popular imagination, it is a work of practical pornography, a how-to guide of absurdly acrobatic sexual techniques. Yet the book began its long life in third-century India as something quite different: a seven-volume vision of an ideal life of urbane sophistication, offering advice on matters from friendship to household decoration. Over the ensuing centuries, the Kamasutra was first celebrated, then neglected, and very nearly lost—until an outrageous adventurer introduced it to the West and earned literary immortality.
In lively and lucid prose, James McConnachie provides a rare, intimate look at the exquisite civilization that produced this cultural cornerstone. He details the quest of famed explorer Richard F. Burton, who—along with his clandestine coterie of libertines and iconoclasts—unleashed the Kamasutra on English society as a deliberate slap at Victorian prudishness and paternalism. And he describes how the Kamasutra was driven underground into the hands of pirate pornographers, until the end of the Lady Chatterley obscenity ban thrust it once more into contentious daylight.

The first work to tell the full story of the Kamasutra, The Book of Love explores how a remarkable way of looking at the world came to be cradled between book covers—and survived.

Michael Dirda in The Washington Post
"the real Kamasutra is even more fascinating than its myth… McConnachie has written an altogether first-rate work of intellectual history for ordinary readers.”


William Dalrymple in The Times
"James McConnachie’s elegant and stylish Book of Love tells not only the story of how and where the Kamasutra came to be compiled, but paints an enticing picture of the society in which it was written."


Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago
"A delightfully racy and adventurous life story of a book, combining thorough scholarship with fascinating Orientalist gossip. The Book of Love illuminates both the luxurious third-century world that gave rise to the Kamasutra and the nineteenth-century colonial explorations that brought it to Europe, as well as our own often hilarious response to it."


Stuart Kelly in The Scotsman
"McConnachie’s book is a vastly entertaining and consistently intelligent guide to the history of this misunderstood and vaguely disreputable book."


Frances Wilson in The Sunday Telegraph
"A fascinating cultural history which puts the Kamasutra back in its rightful position." Full review.


Ian Pindar in The Guardian
"this scholarly and enjoyable book rescues Vatsyayana’s masterpiece from the grubby little corner of the bookshop to which it has been condemned for so long."


Nicola Doherty in The Erotic Review

"a fascinating biography … This compelling and very readable account dispels the myths around one of the world’s most influential books"


Christopher Hart in The Sunday Times, 5th August 2007
"A scholarly, stylish and entertaining study of the ancient Hindu text on erotic pleasure." Full review Paperback review


Lee Siegel, professor of South Asian religions at the University of Hawaii and author of Who Wrote The Book of Love
"Wonderful, so interesting, so engagingly written, so savvy, so very, very well conceived and articulated … a great piece of work."


Lucy Moore, author of Maharanis: The Lives and Times of Three Generations of Indian Princesses

‘A beautifully written exploration of the Kamasutra’s third-century Indian world and how profoundly its nineteenth-century “discovery” and dissemination has affected our own.’

posted : Friday, March 28th, 2008

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Thursday 25 October, 2012

Trying to teach writing, and scrabbling around for memorable metaphors, I’ve found myself describing shish kebabs, praising French cuisine, and describing the migratory habits of Himalayan cranes. (I’ve been gesticulating wildly, too: thumping the table to indicate the force of a full stop, and proffering two opening palms for an “introductory” colon.)

The shish kebab I offered to one student as a kind of model essay plan. The chunks of meat are the points; the peppers are the quotations from primary sources; the onion is the quotation from secondary literature. The skewer – as was blindingly obvious to her well before I got there – is the argument. It has a nice introductory handle to get a grip of, and a sharp, sharp point at the end which pricks your reader back into consciousness.

If only she hadn’t been a vegetarian… I provoked a better reaction with a stray cooking analogy. Good writers, I pontificated, are like French chefs. They value their ingredients (words). They respect traditional techniques (rhetoric), but aren’t afraid to innovate. They are obsessively precise in their preparations, and care deeply about presentation. They reduce sauces to intensify the flavour (cut verbiage). And at the end, they pile in butter, cream and alcohol, wanting above all, to give pleasure. “And then they set fire to it”, added a student. I took this as sincere, rather than sarcastic.   

posted : Friday, March 28th, 2008

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