Before fate intervened, Joseph Needham was a distinguished biochemist at Cambridge University, married to a fellow scientist. In 1937 he was asked to supervise a young Chinese student named Lu Gwei-Djen, and in that moment began the two greatest love affairs of his life - Miss Lu, and China.
Miss Lu inspired Needham to travel to China where he initially spent three dangerous years as a wartime diplomat. He established himself as the pre-eminent China scholar of all time, firm in his belief that China would one day achieve world prominence. By the end of his life, Needham had become a truly global figure, travelling endlessly and honoured by all - though banned from America because of his politics. And in 1989, after a fifty-two year affair, he finally married the woman who had first inspired his passion.
The Magnificent Barbarian is Simon Winchester at his best - at once a magnificent portrait of one man's remarkable life and a riveting exploration of the country that so engaged him.