Goodwin, Jason 1964-

views updated

Goodwin, Jason 1964-


Born 1964; married; wife's name Kate; children: four, including two sons. Education: Attended Cambridge University.


Home—West Sussex, England.


Journalist, writer, and historian.


John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for On Foot to the Golden Horn.


The Gunpowder Gardens: Travels through India and China in Search of Tea, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1990, also published as A Time for Tea: Travels through China and India in Search of Tea, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1993, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1995.

Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2001.

Greenback: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

The Janissary Tree (mystery novel), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Conde Nast Traveler and the New York Times.


English journalist, historian and travel writer Jason Goodwin has focused much of his writing on areas in which East meets West. From the history of the Ottoman Empire, to the history of tea in Asia and Europe, his travels and studies are interesting for their investigation of the two worlds' exchanges. Goodwin's first book, The Gunpowder Gardens: Travels through India and China in Search of Tea, is both history book and travelogue. Inspired by his grandmothers' teapots (which reside on his own mantle), he traveled through China and India to unravel the history of tea. He narrates tea's incarnations and culture in the East and throughout the West, especially in England: from the Chinese folk tale of its origins, to 1,000-year-old tea bushes, to the development of packaged tea bags by American millionaire Tommy Lipton, to the Mad Hatter's Tea party. Molly Mortimer, in Contemporary Review, noted that Goodwin does not include the tea histories of Japan, Tibet, or Africa: "Perhaps his lively imagination will find some interesting facets of British Colonials on the vast Brook Bond estates in Kenya." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times Books Review called the book "funny" and "evocative," writing: "Mr. Goodwin's imagination stays vibrant. It has summoned up all the tea in China and India. And made one thirst for a spicy cup of the brew."

The same year Goodwin's tea book was published in England, he embarked with two traveling companions on a walking tour of Eastern Europe. He describes his travels in his second book, On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul. The early 1990s marked a time of transition for the former Soviet Bloc countries, and Goodwin notes this in his descriptions of the towns and people he encounters. The journey covers some two thousand miles, mostly through the countryside. Philip Glazebrook wrote in his review in Spectator: "Goodwin's book, … contains many an interesting page, and a good many remarks which show insight and intelligence." Jonathan Sunley, in the Times Literary Supplement, commented that the author "is to be congratulated on producing one of the truest portraits of present-day Central Europe available." On Foot to the Golden Horn won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire covers the history of the area, from the Byzantine empire's collapse in the fourteenth century to the Ottoman's own demise at the end of World War I. For 600 years the Ottoman Empire stretched from the border of Iran to the waters of the Danube. It encompassed over three dozen nations and hundreds of ethnic groups, including Spanish Jews, Albanian tribesmen, Venetian merchants, Orthodox Greeks, and Arab Bedouins. Under tolerant Sunni Muslim rule, Ottoman Turks created a culture that "was such a prodigy of pep, such a miracle of human ingenuity, that contemporaries felt it was helped into being by powers not quite human—diabolical or divine, depending on their point of view," as Goodwin writes. However, the Turks neglected to keep up with the industrial revolution in Europe, and military, civilian, and royal turbulence weakened the once-mighty empire. Fouad Ajami praised Goodwin's style in his review in the New York Times Book Review: "He does it in a beguiling way, the pace of his narrative catching, at times, the speed and swiftness of those Ottoman horsemen of the frontier in their days of glory, and then the ponderous style of a decaying empire that answered the calls for reform with pretense and show and outright cruelty as well as with a frenzy of palace building that could not lift the gloom, as the unhappy sultans ‘dragged the terrible burden of their line from one palace to the next.’" Ajami added: "He has … stripped that Ottoman past of its ‘otherness,’ the alienness that has been its lot in this age of unyielding nationalism."

In Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City, Goodwin traces the history of the elevator company founded by Elisha Otis in the 1850s. According to Goodwin, Otis made the elevator a dependable part of life in the big cities. Due to the invention and refinement of the elevator, the building of skyscrapers was made possible. The book also touches on the less-than-ethical business practices within the elevator industry. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Otis "a well-paced book, which weaves business, technological and social history into a seamless and entertaining narrative," and "a thumbnail history of American business, with its mistakes, sins and undeniable triumphs."

In his next book, Greenback: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America, Goodwin focuses on the American dollar and the role it has played in American history. The author traces the history of "paper money" which was created in Boston in the late seventeenth century, and many of the key figures who played a dominant role in the history of the United States and in eventually leading the American dollar to become the number one currency in the world. In an interview in Business Week Online, the author noted that he "tried to write a book about the dollar and American money as if it were something beyond finance." The author went on to explain his fascination with the American one-dollar bill: "The 1 dollar bill, in particular, has this character: It sells, it's worth more than the [face] value of the bill itself, and it's a historical artifact rich with legends and conspiracy." Goodwin also noted: "Nothing else compares to the beauty and mystery of the dollar."

"Goodwin's narrative, which elegantly recounts the difficulties preceding its arrival as an instrument of global hegemony, establishes that from the beginning the dollar was symbolic of—and a receptacle for—the aspirations of the American people," wrote Archie Cotterell in the Spectator. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Goodwin has a "flair for a colorful tale [that] makes for rich reading," adding that the author "makes some excellent points about the role of paper money in early U.S. history." Lucy Heckman remarked in the Library Journal that Goodwin "takes readers on an intriguing journey" and called the book an "informative and often entertaining account." Wilson Quarterly contributor Louis B. Jones wrote that Goodwin "makes a persuasive case that paper money is a specifically American innovation, one that has helped to establish the nation's global caliphate."

Goodwin turns from fact to fiction in his first mystery, The Janissary Tree. The story takes place during the final days of the Ottoman Empire in 1836 and features a eunuch, Yashim Togalu, who begins investigating a series of murders that take place in the court of the sultan. As he looks into the matter, Yashim discovers that an elite band of soldiers known as the Janissaries, who once were a special protectorate for the sultans but have been ousted by the current sultan, may have a connection to the crimes as part of their effort to stage a coup. Yashim is aided in his investigation by a Polish ambassador named Palieski and a transvestite dancer named Preen. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "makes a welcome shift to fiction with this impressive first." Margaret Flanagan, writing in Booklist, referred to The Janissary Tree as a "promising new mystery series," adding that "the reader is treated to an appropriately exotic tour." Natasha Tripney remarked in the New Statesman that "the historical detail can't be faulted." Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called The Janissary Tree a "perfect escapist mystery, with its … dynamic scenes of the cosmopolitan city beyond the palace walls."



Goodwin, Jason, Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1999.


Booklist, December 15, 2002, Mary Whaley, review of Greenback: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America, p. 714; March 15, 2006, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 31.

Choice, February, 2002, F. Potter, review of Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City, p. 1067.

Contemporary Review, September, 1990, Molly Mortimer, review of The Gunpowder Gardens: Travels Through India and China in Search of Tea, pp. 167-168; October, 2003, review of Greenback, p. 252.

Independent (London, England), June 18, 2006, Julian Fleming, review of The Janissary Tree.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Greenback, p. 1588; March 1, 2006, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 210.

Library Journal, January, 2003, Lucy Heckman, review of Greenback, p. 128; April 1, 2006, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 68.

London Review of Books, July 26, 1990, review of The Gunpowder Gardens, pp. 18-19.

New Statesman, July 24, 2006, Natasha Tripney, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 59.

New York Times Book Review, September 9, 1991, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of A Time for Tea: Travels Through China and India in Search of Tea, p. B2; May 2, 1999, Fouad Ajami, review of Lord of the Horizons, p. 7; January 12, 2003, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 18; June 4, 2006, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, August 13, 2001, review of Otis, p. 304; November 18, 2002, review of Greenback, p. 50; February 6, 2006, review of The Janissary Tree, p. 46.

Spectator, July 17, 1993, Philip Glazebrook, review of On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul, p. 27; March 8, 2003, Archie Cotterell, review of Greenback, p. 37.

Technology and Culture, April, 2002, Robert M. Vogel, review of Otis, p. 431.

Times Literary Supplement, August 6, 1993, Jonathan Sunley, review of On Foot to the Golden Horn, p. 12.

Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2001, Daniel Akst, "Going Up," p. A20.

Wilson Quarterly, summer, 2003, Louis B. Jones, review of Greenback, p. 121.


Business Week Online, (October 1, 2007), "The Buck Started Here; Jason Goodwin, Author of Greenback: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America, on the History and Mystique of U.S. Currency."

Jason Goodwin Home Page, (March 9, 2007).

About this article

Goodwin, Jason 1964-

Updated About content Print Article