Pico Iyer on writing, films, American pop culture & the persistence of the American Dream @kamlashow 2016


Pico Iyer is an author and essayist, who divides his time between Japan and the US. We caught up with him in 2015 in San Francisco and spoke to him on a wide variety of topics ranging from how he defines his writing to his love for film, sports, American pop culture, the peristence of the “American Dream,” to Bollywood. We were also curious to find out how he prepares and researches his topics. How does he deal with data obesity and “mass distraction.”

Transformation is a subject that fascinates and absorbs Iyer and that is reflected in most of his writings. How has the world changed since Iyer started traveling in the 1980s during the Cold War period. Iyer traveled to places that were not open to most of us .We are more clueless now than we were 25 years ago points out Iyer. “Now, anybody … can use their smart phone,” assumes they know everything.  “The illusion of knowledge” and “the illusion of familiarity” makes us think we know more about countries than ever before he adds. But, actually we know very little about them he says.

On American culture Iyer offers a fascinating perspective. “Each country from the world draws from the same pool of American pop cultural images but converts it to its own context, its own history and therefore its own language and makes it something radically different…Now, we are 200 countries separated by a similar pop culture language. All the world is going to MacDonald, drinking Starbucks and watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie but in each country they mean something radically different.”

He has an interesting point of view on how the American Dream endures in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. ” The American Dream, which many Americans say has gone past its expiration date is alive and well in the hearts and minds of people around the world,” says Iyer. “By believing in the American Dream they come here and make it real, And that is what we see in a place like Silicon Valley. People from Taiwan, and Korea and India believe America is a land of possibility and that you can do anything you can dream and they come here and they have done that…They are not just remaking America but they are constantly reviving that sense of possibilities in America. Even if China becomes the strongest economy in the world, I don’t think there will be a Chinese Dream.”


Iyer has written a clutch of books like Video Night in Kathmandu to The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. His new book is The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere.

Iyer grew up in California and the UK. His parents taught at the University of California Santa Barbara.


Watch Video Interview with Pico Iyer

Watch Video Interview of Pico Iyer on Iran and Asghar Farhan

Podcast – Pico Iyer on Dalai Lama & Communism Part-1

Podcast – Pico Iyer on Writing, Graham Greene, California & Traveling Part-2




Our interview with author and essayist Pico Iyer on writing, traveling, American pop culture, data obesity, mass distraction, films and Bollywood. Earlier this year Iyer was in San Francisco, which is where we recorded this interview.

Is travel writer the best way to describe Iyer? He calls himself a “transport writer.” Transformation is a subject that fascinates and absorbs him. He wants to put a voice and a face to countries that are otherwise abstractions and that is what propels him to travel to countries like North Korea, Iran or Mongolia.

Films and sports are two of his enduring passions. “I am a movie fanatic…and left to my devices will watch 6 films a week,” he says. We talk to him about Iranian filmmaker Ashgar Farhadi, British filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s  Amy and Clint Eastwood’s American SniperAnd, we wanted to find out what he thought about Bollywood films.

For the past 35 year Iyer has traveled extensively and been to places like Cuba and North Korea that were not open to travelers. What changes has he seen? How does the rest of the world view America? And then there is the lure of the American dream that draws people from all around to America to pursue their dreams and passion. The American dream may have gone past its expiration dream, but is well and alive in rest of the world points out Iyer. You see the American dream constantly revived in Silicon Valley he adds.

How does Iyer process information and deal with data obesity? Tune in to find out what Iyer has to say about.



Pico Iyer talks about Iran and Asghar Farhadi’s film. The question stemmed from an article Iyer wrote on this topic.

This is part of an extended and free ranging interview with Iyer that we recorded in San Francisco. Stay tuned for that interview. We will post it on our YouTube channel.

Podcast: Pico Iyer on California, Writing, Traveling and Graham Greene


Pico Iyer Photo credit: Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books

Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is a well-known writer and essayist. He is a prolific writer, who spends most of his time living in Japan.

In part-2 of our conversation Iyer talks about growing up in England and California, his writing style, globalism, living in Japan and his favorite author Graham Greene.

Iyer often writes about globalism, and yet lives in a secluded part of Japan where he does not watch TV or read newspapers. The  phone rings probably once a month at his home he says. Most evenings he plays ping-pong with senior Japanese people. And when he comes to his mother’s home in Santa Barbara he often makes time to stay at a Benedictine monastery near Big Sur..

Iyer wrote his first book Video Night in Kathmandu over 20 years ago and it still features as one of the top must-read books. He is the author of The Lady and the MonkFalling Off The MapAbandon and a book on Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, who has been living in India since 1959.

Tune in to find out how Pico is able to keep his pulse on the planet and write those articles and books on globalism.

LISTEN: Pico Iyer on Writing, Traveling and Graham Greene:

This interview was recorded in 2008.

Photo credit: Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books

Podcast: Pico Iyer on Dalai Lama and Communism Part-1

Pico Iyer Photo credit: Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books

Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is a well-known  author and essayist. In  2008 during a hectic book tour schedule Iyer graciously made time for an hour-long interview to talk about his book The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama.  

He first met the Dalai Lama through his father Prof. Raghavan N. Iyer, who taught at Oxford and University of California in Santa Barbara. In 1960 Prof. Iyer sailed from England to India to meet with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and thus began a long association between the two men. The book is also a homage by Iyer to his father.

How did Iyer  come up with the idea of writing a book on the Dalai Lama? What does the Dalai Lama have to say about Tibet and Tibet’s future? Is there a happy ending to the Tibet question? Tune in to find out what Pico has to say.

In Part-1 of our conversation Iyer talks about his new book, Dalai Lama, his perceptions of Buddhism and Communism, and how this book is a homage to the memory of his father.

LISTEN: Pico Iyer on Dalai Lama and Communism in China

Photo credit: Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books