Roger Osborne


Roger Osborne is an author, playwright, publisher and geologist.

Over the past 25 years he has written books exploring new ways of seeing and understanding the past, while at the same time appealing to the broadest possible readership.

Alongside major works of history, Roger has written a series of guide books exploring the interconnections of landscape, geology and history of the area of North Yorkshire where he lives.

Roger is Curator of Geology at Whitby Museum and has taught creative writing at the University of Hull.

In 2015 High Tide Publishing published the new edition of his best-selling Dinosaur Coast guidebook. This was the first of a series on the natural history of North Yorkshire followed by Beach Finds on the Yorkshire Coast, Rocks and Landscapes of the North York Moors and Fossils of the Yorkshire Coast (forthcoming).

See our shop page for prices and availability of Roger’s books.

Rocks and Landscapes of the North York Moors: The Pocket Edition (2018)

A friendly guide to the Jurassic rocks that make the spectacular landscape of the moors. Packed with drawings and photos that make geology simple to understand and inspiring.

The Dinosaur Coast: The Pocket Edition (2015)

A complete revision of an established favourite in a new handy size.

The Dinosaur Coast is a fully-illustrated guide to the rocks, fossils and landscape of Yorkshire’s famous Jurassic coastline. Packed with photographs and drawings, it takes readers on 60 mile journey from Saltburn to Flamborough, and a 100-milion year journey through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Beach Finds on the Yorkshire Coast (2016)

A family-friendly guide to the fossils, pebbles and shoreline treasures found on the beaches of the Yorkshire coast.

The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology (1998)

As well as being an extraordinary critical and commercial success, the book overturned received wisdom about how to relate the history of science to a general readership.

‘I was always fascinated by the history of science, but frustrated by the clichéd biographies of great men of genius overcoming huge odds to find triumph and glory. We all know that life is not like that, and science is not like that either. So I set out to write a book that would be enchanting for readers, but would also draw on the richness and complexity of the past, and use the voices of our predecessors. I was trained as a geologist and the Yorkshire coast is my adopted home, so I brought them together in this book.’

Review extracts:
‘A wonderful tome . . .beautifully structured . . . utterly fascinating. Reading The Floating Egg is a captivating experience because there is at least one surprise in every chapter. Roger Osborne has combined portions of history, biology, architecture, palaeontology, astronomy – and a large dose of humour – and produced the fascinating story of how geology came to be.’ Richard Ellis, The Times

‘If you have never read a book about geology and didn’t think you were interested, Roger Osborne could change your life . . . He succeeds magnificently in communicating his enthusiasm.’ Independent on Sunday

‘Can I urge you to buy, borrow or beg a copy of this wonderful book about how the town of Whitby and the surrounding area were critical to the development of the science of geology.’ Beverley Guardian

‘This book is a real gem, beautifully illustrated, charmingly told and informative. It is a book that will linger in the memory and provide you with a lifelong passion for the subject.’ Ottakar’s Book Of The Month

‘A wonderful introduction to the history of geology and to geological history.’ Dr Robin Nicholson, Yorkshire Geology Society

Iron, Steam and Money: The Making of the Industrial Revolution (2013)
A new insight into the relations between social forces, money and technology in the most important episode in human history. Delicious tales of  inventors, scoundrels and visionaries are combined with serious analysis of how and why the revolution happened in eighteenth-century Britain.

Review extracts:

‘Ably handling a mass of material, Osborne explores both the technological side of his subject and its human aspect.’

‘A truly rattling good yarn.’

Civilization: A New History of the Western World (2006)

In this ambitious and important book Roger Osborne shows that we can only understand and take comfort in our civilization by re-examining and confronting our past. The barbarity in Western history can no longer be explained away as base human brutality breaking through the restraining bonds of civilization. Instead we need to see that civilization is itself a hazardous enterprise, creating enormous challenges to humans as moral social beings — challenges that we sometimes fail.

Civilization tells the story of the western world from its origins to the present. Sweeping in its scope and comprehensive in its coverage, Civilization covers everything from the siege of Troy to the Gettysburg address, from Charlemagne to the European Union and from Aristotle to Wittgenstein. Filled with the voices of the past the book ends with an assessment of the present state of western civilization in the light of its past –and an indication of how it might go about the urgent task of renewing itself.

Review extracts:
‘It is a bold adventurer who proposes to survey the history of the Western civilization in a mere 500 pages, and not only to say something fresh about many aspects of it, but to do so in a spirit of perceptive scepticism that refuses to go along with standard views and reflex valuations. Roger Osborne offers himself this challenge and meets it brilliantly.’ A.C. Grayling, Independent on Sunday

‘It would be hard to imagine a more readable general history of the West that covers so much ground so incisively.’ William Grimes, New York Times

‘Roger Osborne’s absorbing blockbuster… is an admirable achievement: a coherent narrative that gallops from the painting of the Lascaux buffalo to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep in fewer than 500 crisply written pages.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘I know of no other book that so clearly and comprehensively explains such a diverse array of philosophers, including Democritus, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Hegel, Marx and Wittgenstein . . . An immensely important book and an exhilarating read.’ Gregor Dallas, Literary Review

‘Urgent, compelling, breathtaking in scope, Osborne’s Civilization confronts the vital question of our time.’ John Carey

‘Osborne’s book is a blessing…. Two weeks in, and the year’s first necessary book is with us.’ Christopher Bray, Daily Telegraph


Laughton (2013)
First produced at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Directed by Chris Monks, with Vincent Franklin, Kacey Ainsworth, Chris Wright and Barnaby Sax.

Review extracts:
‘Laughton was a master of his craft and it would only be fitting if the play about him was good. Fortunately, Roger Osborne’s play is fantastic. It captures Laughton warts and all – his passions, his viciousness, his love of beauty and beautiful things, his selfishness, his doubts, his sexuality, faith, his ambitions and achievements. It is a portrait of a complex and sensitive soul.’

‘An intelligent, sympathetic and often amusing portrait of Laughton at three periods of his life. Above all, the figure Osborne presents is totally reconcilable with what we know of the complex nature of Charles Laughton.’ ‘The play, the direction, the acting – all absolutely wonderful. [The audience was] held mesmerised , moved and uplifted.’

The Art of Persuasion (2011)
First produced at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Directed by Chris Monks, with Janine Birkett, Mark Stratton and Sam Taylor.

Review extracts:
‘Roger Osborne is already a critically acclaimed writer of fact and fiction: his 1999 Floating Egg has been a favourite of mine for years. But nevertheless, the craft of playwriting is a distinct speciality . . . The resulting political satire is a gem [in which] nothing – and no-one – is what it/they seem. Roger Osborne is a bright new talent in the world of theatre.’

‘The Art of Persuasion at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a first play from author Roger Osborne was masterful. I was going to add, ‘for a debut’, however, that would have been disingenuous. This was a play any dramatist would have been proud of writing. Osborne, already a well-known and accomplished non-fiction writer, has crossed genre with aplomb.’

Other books include:
The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge and Deceit in French Indo-China (1999)

A classic whodunnit combined with an unsolved case of scientific fraud. Jacques Deprat was one of France’s most gifted young scientists – a geologist en route to a great future. Posted to colonial Hanoi in 1909 he was accused of scientific fraud and sent home to face trial and disgrace. Astonishingly, he constructed a new life as one of France’s best novelists before dying in a mountaineering accident that he had apparently foretold. New investigations in France have thrown doubt on Deprat’s conviction – was he set up, or was there simply no fraud at all?

‘I came across Jacques Deprat by chance and immediately wanted to write about his extraordinary life. As well as seeing him as a fascinating individual, I was attracted by the fact that the case remains unresolved. I wanted to pose the fundamental question: How do we go about understanding someone’s life, or writing their biography, when the central fact of their guilt or innocence remains unknown? Biographers too easily assume that character predicts actions, I think the Deprat Affair shows that this is often an illusion.’

Review extracts:
‘Immensely readable and beautifully written . . . A detective story without a solution.’ Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph

‘I can think of no other story that so well illustrates the ambiguous boundary between science and fiction . . . A sad tale of a remarkable man.’ Richard Fortey, London Review of Books

‘A fascinating whodunnit. The Deprat Affair reveals a story worthy of Hercule Poirot . . . snobbery, ambition, petty rivalry and intrigue.’ Glasgow Herald

‘A classically twisted tale of petty jealousy and colonial snobbery . . . with a violent denouement.’ New Scientist

‘As lucid as a crisp cold day . . .a mystery story without a solution.’ Scotsman

Of the People: a New History of Democracy (November 2011)
A history of democratic governments from ancient Athens to the Arab spring.

Discover The North York Moors (2007)
The official guide book to the North York Moors National Park. Lavishly illustrated, it makes the perfect introduction to this extraordinary place.