About Mike Dash

photograph of Mike Dash
Mike Dash
Photograph © Harry Borden

Mike Dash, the author of Tulipomania, Batavia's Graveyard, Thug, Satan's Circus and now The First Family, was born just outside London back in 1963. Emigrating with his Welsh expat family to Germany at the age of 9, he was educated at Gatow School, Berlin, Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he read history and ran the Cambridge student magazine. From there he moved on to King's College, London, where in 1990 he finally completed a particularly obscure PhD thesis, entitled British Submarine Policy 1853–1918, that has been little read. By the time he was 27, Mike had thus endured a peripatetic existence that took him from Wheathampstead (Herts) to Berlin, Wells, Zurich, Paris, Cannes, King's Lynn, Cambridge, Hertford, Windsor, Watford, Wantage (Oxon) and Hungerford (Berks). These early travels have, however, made him unusually easy to book onto regional radio stations as a 'local author.'

Running out of money around four years into his research, as most postgraduates do, Mike sensibly spurned the path so notoriously blazed by Belle de Jour and turned his hand to journalism to earn a crust. His first job, for which he was thoroughly unqualified, was compiling about a quarter of the entries for Harrap’s Dictionary of Business and Finance (1988), a volume that he researched via clandestine meetings in a London Spud–U–Like with a college friend who had gone into banking and which was (perhaps thankfully) little read. Obscure early outings in the likes of Manufacturing Clothier — for which he wrote articles on zips and those little labels giving washing instructions that one finds sewn into clothes — led to a wildly implausible stint as a gossip columnist for Fashion Weekly and eventually to a full–time job as assistant editor of Licensing Reporter, a monthly newsletter — little–read as usual — aimed at the character licensing trade (think Garfield greetings cards and Bros lunch boxes).

Improbably promoted to editor after only a week when both his bosses walked out, Mike’s reward for thoroughly revamping LR was a non–negotiable transfer to helm a seldom-perused, failing stablemate, Ceramic Industries International. Fleeing his new title in terror, he fetched up in Teddington on the staff of Haymarket Magazines’ weekly Newsagent, and finally made it to Fleet Street, as editor of Magazine Week, in the summer of 1990. Sadly this new job at the heart of British journalism lasted all of eight weeks before MW was folded into UK Press Gazette and the whole operation was packed off to Cockfosters, at the furthest extremity of London’s tube network.

Mike spent three years running the magazines pages of UKPG before being phoned by John Brown, the maverick publisher of Viz, and asked to suggest the names of possible magazine publishers with an editorial background and some knowledge of the newstrade. Unsurprisingly nominating himself, Mike was hired as Brown’s associate publisher and handed the eccentric portfolio of Viz (by some way the most scurrilous title openly available on the UK news–stand) and the recently-launched Gardens Illustrated, a hugely upmarket title aimed at the sort of women who get their butlers to renew their subscriptions.

Having spent seven happy years with John Brown Publishing, launching some hugely successful magazines along the way, Mike then turned to writing full–time. Two early books were, sadly but predictably, little read, but Mike’s luck changed at last with the publication of his third title, Tulipomania, a history of the Dutch tulip–trading craze of 1636–7. Cannily marketed as a business book in the United States, it sold well to the thousands burned by the dotcom crash and paved the way for the best-selling Batavia’s Graveyard three years later ("That this book has not yet been filmed is incomprehensible," more than one reader has commented). Its follow-up, Thug, tells the story of gangs of murderous highway robbers responsible for an estimated fifty to a hundred thousand deaths in India between the years 1550 and 1840; Satan's Circus, the first of Mike's books to be set in the United States, followed in 2007, and his latest title, The First Family (about the birth and rise of the American Mafia) became perhaps Mike’s best-reviewed book to date and seems well-set to achieve exceptional success. The First Family was named as one of amazon.com's Top 10 history books of 2009 – no mean achievement in an over-crowded market in which several thousand titles are published each year.

Among Mike Dash’s minor claims to fame are numerous appearances between the sticks for Old Tiffinians FC (a position he held despite having absolutely no connections to Tiffin's School), a spectacularly brief spell as a regular guest on the Mark Radcliffe show, writing a weekly history column for the Smithsonian Institution, and two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize for History – for Satan's Circus and The First Family.

Mike is married to Penny Dash — formerly editorial director at the magazine publisher Attic Futura and currently director of Deeper Media, a leading editorial and publishing consultancy — and has a daughter, Ffion. He now lives in London, some 200 stone’s throws from the British Library.

He is no relation, so far as he is aware, to Mike Dash, the extreme pizza expert, to Mike Dash, the opinionated ultimate fighting aficionado who so irritates the denizens of the alt.rec.martial–arts newsgroup, or to Mike Dash, the mythopoet, pro-feminist organiser of SMASH — Seattle Men Against Sexual Harassment.

    Seth Dickson, 2009