Shelby Tucker read Law at the University of Oxford, and is a writer, traveller and author of Among Insurgents: Walking Through Burma, the story of his trek from China to India through the Kachin Hills of northern Burma, Burma: The Curse of Independence, a “plain man’s guide” to Burma’s perennial strife, The Last Banana: Dancing with the Watu about David Livingstone’s quest for “God’s highway” and the role of the Greeks in bringing the “three Cs” (commerce, Christianity and civilization) to Tanganyika, and Client Service, a satirical novel about a financial company drawn from a moment in the sixties when Tucker was a “financial counsellor” for Bernie Cornfeld’s notorious Investors Overseas Services.
Three weeks after its publication, Among Insurgents was ranked the top-selling travel hardback in the UK. Maggie Gee described it as “a first book by an unknown author that makes you want to stand up and applaud … it deserves to become a classic.” A review in the Royal Geographical Society’s Geographical Magazine stated: “It is always dangerous to bandy around words like ‘classic’, but Among Insurgents is a rare treasure… It is a tale which can only inspire the utmost respect.”
A review in The Observer stated: “Something would be wrong with the world if there were not men like Shelby Tucker in it. His writing has a rarely found combination of the public-school-boy’s derring-do and the gentleman’s noble quest for understanding.”
Tucker expounded his passion for travel in an interview for the Andover Bulletin: “Spanish has an expression for monomania. Cada loco tiene su tema – every lunatic has his theme. Mine, for most of my life, has been the open road, wherever it leads.” When he was 17, he left his father asleep in their hotel room in Shreveport, LA, hitchhiked to the Pacific coast and on to Yellowstone Park, Salt Lake City, Denver, El Paso and Mexico City, returning home after three weeks in time for school. This was just the first of Tucker’s lifetime of travels.
World of Finance, a massive investment company, is teetering on the point of implosion. Controlled by the elusive, brooding Baroque, it is irrevocably unravelling. But not before it can suck in the naive and amoral and destroy them. Set in the sixties, this mordant satire of international investment draws on Shelby Tucker s brief experience of Bernie Cornfeld’s Investment Overseas Services, a lucrative financial confidence game, which, like WoF collapsed catastrophically. ‘Client Service’ could not be more entertaining or more apposite.
Publisher: Stacey International
Publication Date: 31 July 2012
— Buy it here.
‘Tucker is endlessly fascinating and well-informed on this little known region of Asia where the end of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh elides surreally into Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast.’ Times Literary Supplement ‘Written with fluency and verve, the book has to be regarded as a standard work and is indispensable for understanding the travails of modern Burma.’ John McEnery, author of Epilogue in Burma Burma offers the first up-to-date overview and understanding of Burma’s tragic armed conflict in the twentieth century. Examining the ’causes’ of the war, Shelby Tucker traces the political development of the country from the occupations by the British and Japanese and eventual independence in 1942, through the army coup of 1962 led by Ne Win, which established an authoritarian state, to the pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s. Tucker examines Burma’s drug trade; scrutinises Burma’s civil rights record; examines the role of the Nationalist leader Aung Seng, who attempted to unite the various sections of the population; the impact of Seng’s assassination and subsequent power struggles; and considers the future for a government faced with armed opposition from separatist movements among the ethnic minorities of Burma’s regions.
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 20 Sept. 2001
Shelby Tucker first went to East Africa in 1967, arriving by sea to visit his Oxford contemporary Marios Ghikas who then farmed on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Ghikas’ grandfather had been one of the first of many Greeks to settle in what was then German East Africa, yet Nyerere’s policy of returning land to the watu destroyed this community. Three stayed on. Marios was one. Anticipating nationalisation, he invited Tucker to visit again to help him spend the ‘last banana of his unremittable fortune’. Tucker returned in 1972, travelling overland. These were the first of 16 trips spanning 43 years that he has made to Africa. In The Last Banana Tucker, himself the descendent of slave owners, contrasts the moral force and fruits of the pioneer missionaries and explorers who brought Christianity to Africa with the triviality of modern travel and the surrealism of democracy expounded in Africa today.
Publisher: Stacey International; First Edition edition
Publication date: 21 Mar. 2010
AMONG INSURGENTS: WALKING THROUGH BURMA – Buy it here.
An adventure story of real risk-taking and the heroic age of travel.
Ten years ago, at the age of 53, Shelby Tucker set out to cross Burma on foot from China to India when land access to Burma was forbidden. Tucker had a rucksack, a diary and some inaccurate maps. He recruited a 6ft 4in Swede, Mats, whom he had met on the train to Beijing.
Near the beginning of their walk through the jungle they encountered a group of naked boys bathing – they realized too late that their Chinese Army uniforms were on the banks. With typical sangfroid, Tucker leapt in to join them, shouting incomprehensible English greetings…
Before long they were in the hands of the Kachin Independence Army and managed to survive many near misses with the Burmese Army. Despite pain and constant danger, Tucker recorded each day the vivid beauty of the country, and the courtesy and hospitality of the Kachins (the most important of Burma’s hidden colonies, about whom very little has been written).
Among Insurgents was Colin Thubron’s Book of the Year, The Guardian’s number 1 travel hardback and the Sunday Times’ number 2. It received warm acclaim from Anthony Sattin (‘packed with insights into tribal identity and the opium trade’), Robert Carver (‘outstandingly well written in the insouciant Peter Fleming tradition’), Sara Wheeler (‘a thrilling book’) and it must surely be shortlised for the Thomas Cook Award.
PUBLISHER: Flamingo; New Ed edition
PUBLICATION DATE: 1st October 2001