Robert Macfarlane was born in 1976 in Nottinghamshire. He has loved mountaineering since he was a child. After attending Nottingham High School, he studied in Cambridge at Pembroke College and in Oxford at Magdalen College, and also accepted a teaching post at a university in Beijing. He earned his doctorate from Emmanuel College in Cambridge in 2000.
Macfarlane became widely known for his books on landscapes, places, nature, people, and language. Today he is regarded as the most important British author in the nature writing genre. His first book »Mountains of the Mind« (2003) won him numerous awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award. The book describes how the human perception of mountains has changed historically, and also includes the changes in the history of science and culture. The focus is less on the history of mountaineering than on mountaineering as a search for space in an increasingly regulated world. After a scientific study on plagiarism in the 19th century, Macfarlane explored the question of where wilderness can still be found today in »The Wild Places« (2007). In this »plea for a neighborly approach to nature« (»NZZ«) he describes remote, hidden, and impenetrable landscapes and evaluates historical travel records. The writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin is also remembered as the spiritus rector of this work. The BBC filmed a documentary based on the book, and in 2012 a sequel entitled »The Old Ways« (2016) was published, in which Macfarlane traces old connecting paths between human settlement areas – from the chalk cliffs of England to the bird islands of Scotland, from Spain’s cultural landscapes to the pilgrimage routes of Palestine and to the Himalayas. In »Landmarks« (2015) Macfarlane explores the possibilities of verbalizing nature experiences, and in his latest book »Underland« (2019) he undertakes a voyage of discovery under the earth to cave landscapes, underground rivers, the glacier world of Greenland, and a tunnel for nuclear waste.
Macfarlane, who has been awarded the Hay Festival Medal for Prose and the EM Forster Award for Literature for his books, among others, is also an essayist and critic for »The Guardian« and was appointed a member of the Royal Society of Literature in 2011. In 2012 he wrote the libretto for the jazz opera »Untrue Island«, which was performed with music by Arnie Somogyi in a former nuclear weapons depot in Orford Ness in Suffolk. He is also a founding member of the conservation organization Action for Conservation. He lives near Cambridge.