I am a British writer specializing in non-fiction. I have published six books, mainly about language and social history, and have contributed to a wide range of publications, such as the Economist, Wall Street Journal, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement.

I studied English Literature at Oxford University and gained my PhD at University College London. I hold a Master’s in Research Methods from Oxford University and also studied for an MSc in Computer Science. In addition, I am a consulting editor for the Oxford English Dictionary.

My most recent book is The World in Thirty-Eight Chapters, or Dr Johnson’s Guide to Life (2018). This is an unconventional biography of the eighteenth-century polymath Samuel Johnson, which applies lessons from his writings and experience to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

My previous books include Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, a study of the first good dictionary of English. It was published in 2005 and won the Modern Language Association’s prize for the year’s best book by an independent scholar.

The Secret Life of Words (2008), a history of words absorbed into English from other languages, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award, and led to my being shortlisted for the title of Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

Among my other books are Who’s Afraid of Jane Austen? (2009), a light-hearted guide to the art of bluffing about literature, and The Language Wars (2011), a history of arguments about English usage.

In 2011 my first TV documentary, about the eighteenth-century novel, was broadcast on the BBC, and in 2013 I published Sorry! The English and their Manners.

2016 saw the publication of Browse, a collection I edited that contained new essays about bookshops by authors including Alaa Al Aswany, Andrey Kurkov, Yiyun Li, Pankaj Mishra, Elif Shafak, Ali Smith and Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

From 2009 to 2019 I was the theatre critic for London’s Evening Standard. My journalism ranges from reviews of theatre and books to long-form reporting on trends in food and drink, interviews with artists, comment on current affairs and personal essays. I am an accomplished speaker, with considerable experience of broadcasting, lecturing and giving informal talks.

I also help companies and individuals tell their stories. My work in this field has involved crafting narratives and messages for tech entrepreneurs, start-ups, media companies, a business advisory firm, communications agencies and a fashion designer. I have experience of ghostwriting, across memoir, screenplays and thought leadership.

Curiously, if you look me up online you may see that I was born in Nottingham. Except I wasn’t. I’m not sure how this came about; my actual birthplace was Guildford. I mention it because I was once asked to be a guest on a radio programme exploring “the charms of the overlooked Midlands”, and I had to explain to the researcher that, contrary to what appeared online, I wasn’t well qualified to hold forth on that subject!