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Robert Byron

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Who is Robert Byron?

Robert Byron (1905 - 24 February 1941) was a British travel writer, best known for his travelogue The Road to Oxiana. He was also a noted writer, art critic and historian.

Byron was born in 1905, and educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He died in 1941, during the Second World War, when the ship on which he was travelling was torpedoed by a U-Boat off Cape Wrath, Scotland, en route to Egypt.

Byron's The Road to Oxiana is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing. It is an account of Byron's ten-month journey to Persia and Afghanistan in 1933-34 in the company of Christopher Sykes. Byron had previously travelled to widely different places; Mount Athos, India, the Soviet Union, Tibet. However it was in Persia and Afghanistan that he found the subject round which he forged his style of modern travel writing, when he later came to write up his account in Peking, his temporary home.

Writer Paul Fussell wrote in his 1982 book Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between The Wars that The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book what "Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry." Travel writer Bruce Chatwin has described the book as "a sacred text, beyond criticism," and carried his copy "spineless and floodstained" on four journeys through central Asia.

However, in his day, Byron's travel books were outsold by those of writers Peter Fleming and Evelyn Waugh.

An appreciation of architecture is a strong element in Byron's writings and he was a forceful advocate for the preservation of historic buildings, and was a founder member of the Georgian Group. A philhellene, he was also amongst the pioneers in a reinterest in Byzantine History.

He attended the last Nuremberg Rally, in 1938, with Nazi sympathiser Unity Mitford. Byron knew her through his friendship with her sister Nancy Mitford, but he was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis. He died aged 35 in 1941 after his ship, the SS Jonathan Holt, was torpedoed by a u-boat in the North Atlantic. Source:

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