Iyer was born in England to Indian parents. His father, an expert on Mahatma Gandhi, taught at the University of California, for twenty years. Iyer lived in California in his childhood but returned to England as a teenager, where he was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, and went on to pursue a globetrotting career as a reporter, essayist, and novelist. Iyer has filed stories from all over the world, including Bhutan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Cuba, Argentina, and North Korea.
Describing himself as "a global village on two legs," Iyer considers himself a citizen of the world. Iyer works as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to publications such as TIME magazine, Harper's Magazine, and The New York Review of Books.
He has published twelve books, including Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-so-Far East (1988), Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World (1993) and The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (2008). They have been translated into several languages and published in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America. His latest work, published last year, is The Man Within My Head.
In a TIME article in the leadup to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Iyer's exhaustive study of South Korea helped lift the veil on the quiet transformation of what many people remembered as an impoverished third-world country into the world's eleventh largest economy. Iyer sees himself more as an international traveller than an Indian writer. Currently he lives and works much of the year in Japan.
Pico Iyers visit to Claremont McKenna College is sponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies.