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Between the Bookends

Alone on the Great Wall

'Alone on the Great Wall ' (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989) is both a riveting adventure story in defiance of the odds, and a fascinating portrait of China in its first post-Cultural Revolution decade.

   “The 1980s was the time when a China long-benighted by Mao opened its eyes on the world — and met me. I doubtless encountered tens of thousands of people who had never seen a foreigner before.”


Detailing the dramas of my ambition to become the first foreigner ‘to traverse the Wall on foot from end to end’ this forbidden journey is set in a China of areas closed to foreigners, car-less Beijing and foreign-exchange certificates.

   “It’s my recollection of the physical, political and romantic adventure. Alone on the Great Wall has very quickly become dated i.e historical. It’s a record of arguably the most important decade of China’s post-Mao period, its initial, and very awkward efforts, at rejoining the world.”

    Hardback: out of print. Softback: US edition is still available.

The Great Wall Explained

'The Great Wall Explained '(China Intercontinental Press, Beijing) is principally an explanation of the Great Wall’s geography, history and appearance and function of its remnant structures gleaned from extensive field experience at the Great Walls of various dynasties. 

   Following an introductory chapter, I then explain the Wall story through the following chapters: Conflict, Construction, Architecture, Operation, Personages, Views and Conservation. Richly illustrated with photos that help to explain, the book also includes many self-drawn maps and self-designed charts.

'The Great Wall Explained' is available only in soft back, and only in China.

   An e-book and Second Edition, which will be a hardback is in the pipeline. I expect to publish these editions by the end of 2016.

  I’d like to acknowledge the great assistance given to me in preparing these new editions by Dr. Raynor Shaw.

   I’m also thankful for the time spent by my peers and fellow authors in looking at a pre-publication copy of the book, and writing the following comments for the jacket.

“Through resplendent photographs and imaginative prose this innovative work unfolds the often startling results of twenty-five years of detailed engagement with the monumental structure known as the Great Wall. Rather than a mere chronicle of events or dull reprisal of developments, it is the fruit of lengthy pondering and extensive historical study. By combining detailed physical examination with highly aesthetic presentation William Lindesay has infused the Wall with life and created a vigorous, indeed a definitive, study.” - Ralph Sawyer, author ‘Chinese Ways of Warfare’. 


“In The Great Wall Explained, William Lindesay offers everything you ever wanted to know about the greatest architectural monument on the planet. Richly written and lavishly photographed, the words and images of the book present a geographic and temporal outline of the story of China. Just as the Great Wall runs the width of China, its story reaches back through all the eras of the Chinese nation and touches on every important episode in its history.  In this valuable work of research, William Lindesay gives us a map into the Chinese soul.” -- Jack Weatherford, author ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’.

The Great Wall in 50 Objects

“William Lindesay shows us the Wall in a completely new light by looking at the smaller objects that make up its history….Through these objects we feel the Great Wall transform from architecture into a living part of the history and culture of China”. — Prof. Jack Weatherford, author of ‘The Mongol Queens: How Genghis Khan’s Daughters Saved His Empire’.

“For years Lindesay has hiked the Wall with exceptional passion. To him, it seems, the Wall is not a mere structure, a political icon or a cultural curiosity, but a treasure trove of stories”. — Jaime FlorCruz, former Beijing bureau chief of Time magazine and CNN.

“If you are going to China, and intend to see the Great Wall (or even if, unwisely, you don’t), take this book with you, and absorb as many of its intriguing nuggets of Wall-lore and China-lore as you can — it will make your visit infinitely richer.” — Prof. Christopher Cullen, Emeritus Director, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge.

“I read The Great Wall in 50 Objects with interest and delight, and learned a huge amount. If I had to choose one objects that lingers and disturbs, it would be (the photograph of) the Chinese defending the Wall against Japanese invasion – and the author’s wonderfully subtle explication of its real and intended meanings”. — Dr. Neil MacGregor, author ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, former director of the British Museum.

“William Lindesay has a knack for approaching the iconic Great Wall in ways that are creative, idiosyncratic and deeply personal….He has succeeded again with The Great Wall in 50 Objects” — Peter Hessler, author of ‘River Town’ and ‘Oracle Bones’.

"I first met the author standing on The Great Wall – it is his natural habitat. William Lindesay lives and breathes Great Wall history and he exudes it with an engaging passion. The 50 objects he has selected for this current work enchant with their intrinsic beauty, ingenuity and fascination. Lindesay unlocks their stories, linking them coherently with the larger narrative of the Wall in a way that not only helps us to understand how the Wall evolved in purpose and function but he also uses them to introduce us to the people whose lives were touched by it. Above all these are objects that were made and handled by people who knew the Wall. They are objects that give texture, colour and form to daily life– they give personality to the peoples of the Wall." — Mike Loades, military historian, author of ‘Swords and Swordsmen’.

“China’s Great Wall is both a monument and a mystery, an almost magical construction mixing beauty and terror.   No better book panders to our fascination with its grandeur and the details of its construction. William Lindesay answers our wish to get closer to the people who built it and lived with it by revealing so many aspects of the Wall, taking us a journey across the centuries and its vast length. “ — Jasper Becker, former Beijing correspondent for The Guardian and South China Morning Post, and author of ‘Hungry Ghosts’ and ‘The Chinese’. 

“Lindesay presents a coherent and highly informative account of the geography, history and material culture of China’s Great Wall. His compelling and well-written account is rich in  profound and often quite unexpected insights.” — Lothar von Faulkenhausen, Professor of Chinese Archaeology and Art History, UCLA.

The Great Wall in 50 Objects was featured in '11 Books to Read Before Visiting Beijing' at, click here.

The Great Wall Revisited

'The Great Wall Revisited' has been a steady seller since it first appeared in 2007. Originally published in both Chinese and English language editions in China, it has since been published in the UK (Frances Lincoln) and the US (Harvard University Press). 

   After my journey to William Geil's hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 2008, and my inspection there of the Geil materials, I produced an expanded Second Edition (hardback) in 2009.

   The first editions are available in the UK and US, while the Second Edition is only available in China. 

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