Nigel Cliff is the author of three acclaimed works of nonfiction on subjects ranging from the Cold War and Shakespeare in the 19th century to the Age of Discovery, as well as a new translation and critical edition of Marco Polo’s Travels. He is a Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.
Nigel’s first book, The Shakespeare Riots (Random House, 2007), tells the stranger-than-life tale of a scandalous feud between the first American star and the leading British actor of the mid-19th century, which escalated into a riot in New York that left as many as 30 dead. The story of the birth struggles of the American entertainment industry, it also reveals Shakespeare’s extraordinary influence on the young republic’s character. He moved to New York to research the book and spent a year searching out unpublished diaries, letters, and theatrical ephemera. Praised as “a brilliant debut” by the London Review of Books and “brilliantly engrossing” by the LA Times, it was a finalist for the U.S. National Award for Arts Writing and was a Washington Post book of the year. Muse Productions optioned the film rights and commissioned Nigel to write a screenplay.
The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama was published by Harper in the U.S. (2011) and Atlantic in the UK (2012), with Portuguese, Brazilian, Japanese, Turkish, Russian, Polish, and Chinese editions following. A historical epic stretching across two millennia, it identifies Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India as a turning point in the long struggle for supremacy between Christianity and Islam, East and West. His research in Vasco da Gama’s footsteps took him across three continents and around the Indian Ocean. Praised as “stirringly epic… a thrilling narrative” by The Sunday Times, it was a New York Times Notable Book and was shortlisted for the PEN/Hessell-Tiltman History Prize and the Mountbatten Maritime Prize.
In February 2015 Nigel’s new translation and critical edition of Marco Polo’s Travels was published in Penguin Classics. For this, the first all-new translation in more than fifty years, he went back to the early Old French, Italian, and Latin texts and steeped himself in the deep and sometimes treacherous waters of medieval Asian history. Calling the translation “excellent,” the Polan scholar Stephen G. Haw wrote: “It will doubtless become a standard work.”
Nigel’s fourth book, Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story—How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War, was published by Harper in September 2016. To tell the remarkable story of the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition and its political and personal aftermath, he traveled to Russia and the U.S. to visit locations, interview surviving players and their families and friends, and research in the archives. Moscow Nights was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Boston Globe Book of the Year, and winner of Nautilus Gold and Silver Awards.
Nigel was born in 1969 and was a scholar of Winchester College and Harris Manchester College, Oxford, where he gained a double First in English and the Beddington Prize in English Literature. A former theatre and film critic for The Times and contributor to The Economist, he reviews books for a number of publications including The New York Times Book Review. He lectures widely, most recently at Oxford University, the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the British Library. He has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, BBC World Service’s Newshour, and PBS’s Morning Edition. He is a member of PEN America, the Society of Authors, and the Film and Theatre sections of the Critics Circle. He lives in London with his wife, the ballerina Viviana Durante, and their son, Orlando.