Andro Linklater obituary

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Jan 18 11:21:24 GMT 2014

Andro Linklater obituary
Journalist, biographer and author who explored 
the history of property ownership in America
George Gibson - The Guardian, Thursday 21 November 2013 13.36 GMT


Andro Linklater chronicled the enormous impact on 
civilisation of private property. Photograph: Marie-Louise Avery

The Scottish author Andro Linklater was 
fascinated by the relationship between people and 
land. His death at the age of 68 from a heart 
attack came while he was on the isle of Eigg, 
researching for a new book on the history of land 
ownership in the Hebrides. The originality he 
brought to the subject reflected his talents as a 
biographer and journalist – the effects of 
individuals' ideas were represented in terms 
graphic enough to be grasped readily.

Measuring America (2002) explored how the US took 
the British measurement of a chain – 22 yards, 
the length of a cricket pitch or 1/80 of a mile – 
so that the Public Land Survey System could 
register land across the continent and make it 
saleable. Traditionally the rugged individual has 
been taken as the driving force of the young 
republic: Linklater showed how America's 
democracy and laws, its government, evolved in 
large part to support the property rights of those individuals.

The Fabric of America (2007) returned to 
Linklater's fascination with surveyors, 
illuminating Andrew Ellicott's central role in 
establishing the country's borders and boundaries 
– again deepening understanding of the nation's 
roots. Owning the Earth (published earlier this 
year) chronicles the enormous impact on 
civilisation of private property, an idea 
revolutionary 500 years ago that now seems 
simple: the notion that "one person could own 
part of the earth exclusively". He puts forward 
the argument – through elegantly crafted stories 
of unknown settlers and famous figures alike – 
that varying forms of property ownership have a 
bearing on the different kinds of government to 
be found in America, Europe, Russia, China and the Arab world.

Andro was born in Edinburgh, the youngest of four 
children of the novelist Eric Linklater and his 
wife, the former actor Marjorie McIntyre. He 
attended Belhaven Hill school in Dunbar, East 
Lothian, and then Winchester college, before 
studying modern history at New College, Oxford. 
"Neither school nor university offered him a 
settled compass," recalled his journalist brother 
Magnus, and he spent time tutoring in France, and 
then crossing America. From New York he went to 
Chicago – he was present at the historic 
Democratic National Convention in 1968 – and to 
San Francisco, where he worked in an art gallery.

Back in Britain, he taught for some time in a 
London comprehensive school until he was asked to 
complete the history of the Black Watch regiment 
that his father had been writing at the time of 
his death in 1974. It was well received on 
publication three years later, and was followed 
by a successful children's book, Amazing Maisie 
and the Cold Porridge Brigade (1978), and 
biographies of the suffragette Charlotte Despard 
(1980) and the writer Compton Mackenzie (1987). 
Linklater wrote regularly for the Daily Telegraph 
and was for many years a book critic for the 
Spectator and a contributor to Prospect magazine.

 From his youth, Linklater had relished physical 
adventures, and his next book, Wild People 
(1990), colourfully recounts his time living with 
a tribe of head-hunters in Sarawak, one of the 
two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The 
Code of Love (2001) was a previously untold second world war story.

I first encountered Linklater through the 
proposal he put forward for Measuring America, 
and immediately offered him a publishing 
contract. What made the prospect of the book 
compelling was his love of – in the words of the 
eminent American historian David McCullough – 
"the adventure of ideas". Following The Fabric of 
America, Linklater continued to display his 
fascination with the years around 1800 with An 
Artist in Treason (2009), a biography of James 
Wilkinson, the American general who also acted as 
an agent for Spain; and Why Spencer Perceval Had 
to Die (2012), his reconstruction of the only 
assassination of a British prime minister.

In 1987, he married the photographer Marie-Louise 
Avery, and they settled in Markbeech, a village 
in Kent. He was an enthusiastic member of the 
choir of Holy Trinity church there and immersed 
himself in local causes, his enthusiasm and sense 
of humour giving wings to a host of ideas and initiatives.

He is survived by Marie-Louise, Magnus and his sisters, Alison and Kristin.

• Andro Ian Robert Linklater, writer, born 10 
December 1944; died 3 November 2013
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