About Dean


As an award-winning author of nine non-fiction books, I have chased stories across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Appalachia. My goal is to draw you into a nuanced and accurate historical narrative that allows you to live with the characters, to feel their pain, striving, triumphs, and defeats. I ride the camels, climb the 14,000-foot peaks, walk the yard-arms, and ATV into the deep woods to find out the real facts from the far-flung sources and to make the history sing on the page. If in turn you are eager to take the book to your favorite easy chair or to read it beneath a book lamp into the wee hours of the night, I’m a happy guy.


Based in Richmond, Virginia, I like to travel and speak broadly and have been the chief story-teller on two History Channel documentaries. I’m also the producer of a History Channel Hatfield-McCoy reality documentary series, which evolved from my research.


An award winning author of ten books and dozens of articles in national magazines, Dean King has a passion for historical adventure stories. His earliest works were the best-selling companion books to Patrick O’Brian’s epic Aubrey-Maturin novel series A Sea of Words, Harbors & High Seas, and Every Man Will Do His Duty. He followed these up with a critically acclaimed biography of the eccentric author, Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed, which was named a big book of the year by The Daily Telegraph, where it was serialized in four full pages.


King followed this biography with the national bestseller Skeletons on the Zahara (Little, Brown, 2004), which tells the true story of the shipwreck of a Connecticut merchant brig Commerce on the west coast of Africa in 1815. The crew was enslaved on the desert by nomadic Arabs and had to travel 800 miles across the Sahara to reach freedom. Based on the memoirs of Captain James Riley and sailor Archibald Robbins, which King discovered in the New York Yacht Club library, and translated into ten languages, Skeletons was a multiple book of the year selection, the basis of a feature in National Geographic Adventure and a two-hour special documentary on the History Chanel. It is currently being developed as a feature film in London.


King’s latest work, Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival , about the 30 courageous women who walked 4,000 miles across China with Mao Zedong, in 1934, was published in the spring of 2010. While crossing eleven provinces, the 30 women forded dozens of raging rivers, scaled ice-covered peaks on the Tibetan Plateau, and survived ambushes, bombings, severe hunger and thirst, typhoid fever, and the births of half a dozen children. Their epic march helped reshape China forever. King’s account of his research trek in northwest Sichuan Province is featured in the April edition of Outside and, translated into Mandarin, is the cover story of the May edition of Outside China. Of Unbound, Mary Baldwin College professor of Asian Studies Daniel A. Metraux wrote: “King, more than any other writer, recaptures the drama and flavor of this momentous time in Chinese history. . . . Unbound is a must read for any student of modern Chinese history and ranks with Red Star Over China as one of the classic narratives of the early days of the CCP.”


King is a past director of book publishing at National Review, an original contributing editor to Men’s Journal, and the founder of Bubba Magazine. He has contributed stories to Book Marks, Esquire, Garden & Gun, Granta, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, New York, The New York Times, Outside, Travel Leisure, and The Daily Telegraph.


From 1997-2000, King edited the Heart of Oak Sea Classics series published by Henry Holt, which included fiction and non-fiction books about the Age of Fighting Sail, with new introductions and annotation. The series included such authors as Joseph Conrad, James Fenimore Cooper, Frederick Marryat, and James Norman Hall. Captain Richard Bailey of HMS Rose once noted that: “Like a great explorer of nautical literary archeology, King leads us on a journey of rediscovery into the past – back to a time before O’Brian, before Forester – to the founding authors of a great literary tradition.”


King is a nationally known speaker on his books, writing, and sea literature.

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An avid hiker, King likes to clear his mind on cross-country treks. He writes: “I took my first major walk—190 miles coast to coast in England—in 1986 after escaping a tedious temporary job as sales clerk in a London Tie-Rack. The job made the open air all the more glorious, even if the cloud ceiling was about head high almost every day. Ever since then, my friend, Rob, an English investment banker, and I plan walks whenever we can. Various friends sign on for these no-frills holidays. On our first journey, we followed Alf Wainwright’s route through the North York Moors (stark and lovely like the end of the world), the Yorkshire Dales (where we encountered horizontal sheets of rain), and the Lake District (lush hills with rocky tops ringing with their literary inspiration). It was so much fun, we did it again in 2000.


“In between, we walked Offa’s Dyke (160 rugged and breathtaking miles along the Welsh-English border) in 1987; Pilgrim’s Way, from Winchester, once the political center of England, to Canterbury, then the ecclesiastical center of England, with my wife and a friend in 1989; and the Tour du Mont Blanc, which takes you through Switzerland, France and England, in 1993. The toughest walk we have tackled was the Walkers’ Haute Route, from Zermatt to Chamonix, in 1996. Each morning began with a brutal uphill stretch. One friend finally had to take a bus and meet us ahead.”


A while back, King and his wife, Jessica King, and some friends tackled the one-day Round Manhattan Walk (about 36 miles), about which King says, “The battering of walking on the pavement all day left me sorer than the New York Marathon would a few years later.” Other favorite journeys include the Mont Ventoux midnight climb, in France, the Na Pali Coast, in Kauai, Hawaii, and a series of inn-to-inn walks that Dean did for Mid-Atlantic Country Magazine : From Back Bay, Virginia, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina along the Allegheny Trail in West Virginia; and on the Delaware River Trail, 1994.


In 1999, Dean sailed as a sailor trainee on board the tallship HMS Rose from New York to Bermuda. And in 2001, he retraced Captain James Riley’s route on foot and on camelback through Western Sahara, which informed his book Skeletons on the Zahara . Click here to go to his trip journal, on this website.

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Dean is a founder, past co-chair, and advisory board member of James River Writers, a nonprofit that promotes readng and writing and sponsors the annual James River Writers Conference. Held on the first weekend of October at the Library of Virginia in historic downtown Richmond, the conference is known for its relaxed and collegial atmosphere as well as for its noteable guests.


Writers who have spoken at the conference include Mark Bowden, John Casey, Christopher McDougall, Martin Clark, Brian Haig, Evans Hopkins, Tony Horowitz, Edward P. Jones, Alex Kershaw, Karl Marlantes, T. R. Pearson, Richard Price, Tom Robbins, Hampton Sides, Charles Slack, Jeannette Walls, and Logan Ward. That is, in addition to Richmond’s own Ellen Brown, Clay Chapman, Phaedra Hise, D. L. Hopkins, Charles Jones, Caroline Kettlewell, Jon Kukla, David Lawrence, Ann McMillan, Buffy Morgan, Howard Owen, David L. Robbins, Ron Smith, Jason Tesauro, Kathleen Reid, Nikki Turner, Irene Ziegler and many others. Among the editors who have spoken at JRWC are Chuck Adams, editor in chief of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; Morgan Entrekin, the head of Grove-Atlantic Press; Jim Meigs, formerly editor in chief of Us and Premiere magazines and currently editor in chief of Popular Mechanics; and Little, Brown editor in chief Geoff Shandler.


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