The Dawn Watch

The Dawn Watch

Maya Jasanoff

Pub date
William Collins
A4 159x240mm
400 pages
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Book Overview



‘Enlightening, compassionate, superb’ John le Carré

A visionary life and times of Joseph Conrad, and of our global world, from one of the best historians writing today.

Migration, terrorism, the tensions between global capitalism and nationalism, the promise and peril of a technological and communications revolution: these forces shaped the life and work of Joseph Conrad at the dawn of the twentieth century. In this brilliant new interpretation of one of the great voices in modern literature, Maya Jasanoff reveals Conrad as a prophet of globalization as we recognize it today. As an immigrant from Poland to England, and in travels from Malaysia to the Congo to the Caribbean, Conrad navigated an interconnected world, and captured it in a literary oeuvre of extraordinary depth. His life story delivers a history of globalization from the inside out, and reflects powerfully on the aspirations and challenges of the modern world.

Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, to Polish parents in the Russian Empire. At sixteen he left the landlocked heart of Europe to become a sailor, and for the next twenty years travelled the world’s oceans before settling permanently in London as an author. He saw the surging, competitive ‘new imperialism’ that planted a flag in almost every populated part of the globe. He got a close look, too, at the places ‘beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines,’ and the hypocrisy of the west’s most cherished ideals.

In a compelling blend of history, biography and travelogue, Maya Jasanoff follows Conrad’s routes and the stories of his four greatest works: The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, and Nostromo. Genre-bending, intellectually thrilling and deeply humane, The Dawn Watch embarks on a spellbinding expedition into the dark heart of Conrad’s world – and through it to our own.

About the author

Maya Jasanoff is Coolidge Professor of history at Harvard University. Her first book, Edge of Empire, was awarded the 2005 Duff Cooper Prize and was a book of the year selection in numerous publications including the Economist, Guardian and Sunday Times. Her second, Liberty’s Exiles was shortlisted for the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize (now Baillie Gifford). A 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, Jasanoff won the prestigious 2017 Windham-Campbell Prize for Non-Fiction. Her essays and reviews appear frequently in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.


  • ‘The Dawn Watch will win prizes, and if it doesn’t there is something wrong with the prizes’ Guardian
  • ‘A strikingly original book … Jasanoff writes beautifully … succeeds brilliantly … an extraordinary and profoundly ambitious book, little short of a masterpiece’ William Dalrymple
  • ‘Lucid, revelatory and wonderfully concise, The Dawn Watch celebrates Conrad’s uncanny prescience and shows his continued relevance now in the twenty-first century’, Book of the Year, TLS, William Boyd
  • ‘A startlingly original take of the state we’re in’ Book of the Year, TLS, Frances Wilson
  • ‘An enviably gifted writer … her historian’s eye can untie knots that might baffle the pure critic … Jasanoff … steers us securely and stylishly through those latitudes where Conrad witnessed the future scupper the past’ Spectator
  • ‘So well written … This is a biographer who has done her homework and her legwork for a book that creates a Conrad for our time. Enjoy it – how rarely can one say that about a work of scholarship’ The Times
  • ‘Written with a novelist’s flair for vivid detail and a scholar’s attention to texts The Dawn Watch is by any standard a major contribution to our understanding of Conrad in his time … what Jasanoff offers the reader is … a fresh view of a much-scribbled-on-writer that enables us to see him in a time in many ways like our own’ Literary Review
  • ‘Skillfully integrates details of Conrad’s life and accounts of his four greatest works, linking the challenges and forces that lie behind and within the novels to those of the 21st century … A powerful encouragement to read his books’ Economist
  • ‘An unobtrusively skillful, subtle, clear-eyed book, beautifully narrated … It is Jasanoff’s warmth towards her subject that comes through’ Financial Times
  • ‘Jasanoff’s first-rate analysis of the “global compass” of Conrad’s fiction, in all its matchless beauty and grave intent’ Evening Standard
  • ‘Maya Jasanoff’s stands out for its vivid and imaginative writing’ Sunday Times