Peter Watson (intellectual historian)

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Peter Frank Patrick Watson (born 1943 in Birmingham) is a British intellectual historian and former journalist, now perhaps best known for his work in the history of ideas.

Early life

Watson graduated in Psychology from Durham in 1964.[1] He subsequently earned a scholarship to study for a diploma in music at La Sapienza and then completed a doctorate at the University of London.[1] As a student at Durham he competed for the university rugby team.[2] After university he trained as a psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic in London, but left this profession in the late 60's after becoming dissatisfied with Freudian theories.[3]


Watson was deputy editor of New Society from 1970 to 1973 and was for four years a member of the Insight team at The Sunday Times.[1] He was New York correspondent of The Times from 1981 to 1982.[1] He has also written for The Observer, Punch, The Spectator and The New York Times. His journalistic work includes detailed investigations of auction houses and the international market in stolen antiquities. His 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, is based on his experience going undercover with the Carabinieri to investigate the theft of a Caravaggio painting, the Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, which had been stolen in 1969 from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo.[4] He concluded the painting was most likely stolen by members of Cosa Nostra.

Watson would later return to the art world as a subject in Sotheby's: The Inside Story (1998). The book accused Sotheby's of selling antiquities it knew to have been stolen.[5] In an interview with Noah Charney for The Daily Beast, he related that the investigation had so damaged Sotheby's reputation that people he knew in the London art world wouldn't speak to him for years afterwards.[6] A third expose of the art world, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums, was published in 2006.

Between 1997 and 2007, Watson was a Research Associate at the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, part of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge. He has published thirteen books, including The German Genius, published by Simon & Schuster in 2010.[7][8]


Watson is an atheist, and is particularly critical of monotheism.[9] He has argued that psychotherapy has become a substitute for religion, and that people more often seek therapy as a way to find meaning in their lives than to treat mental illness.[10] He is a member of the Reform Club and describes himself as a Social Democrat politically.[1]


  • Watson, Peter (2014). The Age of Nothing: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1476754314. (Published in the United States as "The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God").
  • Watson, Peter (2012). The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061672453.
  • Watson, Peter (2010). The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-076023-0.
  • Watson, Peter; Cecilia Todeschini (2007). The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities—From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums. Jackson, TN: PublicAffairs/Perseus Books. ISBN 1-58648-402-8.
  • Watson, Peter (2009). Ideas: a History, from Fire to Freud. 2 vols, London: The Folio Society.
  • Watson, Peter (2009). Ideas: a History from Wittgenstein to the World Wide Web. 2 vols, London: The Folio Society.
  • Watson, Peter (2006). Ideas: a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-093564-2.
  • Watson, Peter (2005). Ideas: a History, from Fire to Freud. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Watson, Peter (2005). Landscape of Lies (Felony & Mayhem Mysteries). New York: Felony & Mayhem Press. ISBN 1-933397-18-7.
  • Watson, Peter (2001). The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0060194138.
  • Watson, Peter (2000). A Terrible Beauty: the People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Watson, Peter (1998). Sotheby's: The Inside Story. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-41403-7.
  • Watson, Peter (1989). Wisdom and Strength, the Biography of a Renaissance Masterpiece. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-09-174637-X.
  • Watson, Peter (1984). The Caravaggio Conspiracy. New York: Penguin/Doubleday. ISBN 0-14-007635-2.
  • Watson, Peter (1978). War on the Mind: the Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-09065-6.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Watson, Peter 1943- (Peter Frank Patrick Watson)". Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  2. ^ Moyes, Arthur (2007). Be The Best You Can Be: A History of Sport at Hatfield College, Durham University. Hatfield Trust. p. 36.
  3. ^ Solomon, Deborah. "What's the Big Idea?". New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  4. ^ Broyard, Anatole. "Books of the Times". New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  5. ^ "Sothebys: The Inside Story". Peter Watson. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  6. ^ Charney, Noah (3 July 2012). "Peter Watson Wants Nietzsche Back: 'How I Write' Interview". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  7. ^ Peter Watson, Modern Mind: An intellectual history of the 20th century (2001) ISBN 0-06-008438-3
  8. ^ Peter Watson's biography
  9. ^ "Peter Watson". Freedom From Religion Foundation. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  10. ^ "The Significance of Our Insignificance". Sam Harris. 10 March 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2018.

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