As NIMBLE AT conveying the vagaries of power in Southern Africa, as the play of light on Venice lagoon or the patter of the New Yorker, Jan Morris is the great virtuoso of travel writers, sometimes summoning the energy of a full verbal orchestra, on other occasions reflecting with the poignancy of a carefully stopped single instrument.
She first became widely known in 1953, when, on cue for Coronation Day, she gave the world news of the conquest of Mount Everest. At the time she was James Morris, a dashing former army officer turned journalist. Under this name, over the next twenty years, she produced a series of books, including superior travelogues about America and Arabia, sophisticated histories of cities such as Venice and Oxford, and the first two volumes of her colourful Pax Britannica trilogy, charting the rise and fall of the British Empire during the nineteenth century.
But she always felt an outsider because, for as long she could remember, she was certain she was a woman. After great personal anguish she summoned the courage to change her sex - the story she told in Conundrum, published in 1974.
In the three subsequent decades, she has continued her travels in different