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I began writing as an intern at The Nation in New York. Later, I became senior editor and writer at COLORS, based first in Rome, then Paris, then Venice. In 1999, I began a freelance career, and have since written for the New York Times, Guardian, Independent, London Review of Books and many other publications. I was accidentally a war correspondent in Kosovo for Condé Nast Traveler (for one day); I reported on an alternative World Cup final in Bhutan between Bhutan and Montserrat (Bhutan won); and I attended Saddam Hussein's birthday party, twice. (There was cake.)

​"A Life Removed: Hunting for Refuge in the Modern World," my first book, explored the lives of people displaced by Liberia's wars. "The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste/The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters" was judged one of the best books of the year by The Economist. "Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that Puts Clothes on your Back, Gas in your Car and Food on your Plate" (UK title: "Deep Sea and Foreign Going") won the 2013 Mountbatten Literature Award.

I received a congratulatory first-class honours BA in modern languages from the University of Oxford in 1992, and an MA in international politics in 1994 from the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a Fulbright and Thouron Scholar. I speak French and Italian, can no longer understand Dante in the original but can get my internet fixed in French and live mostly in Yorkshire. Often, I'll be on a fell or trail somewhere, running. (My running blog is here.)