The Inventory: Dan Snow

Historian Dan Snow, 33, is also an award-winning television presenter.

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted to be a scientist and get involved with the extraordinary development of computers, space and all the wonderful things we’ve witnessed – and which I haven’t contributed to at all. Unfortunately, I was rubbish at science.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

I went to an independent school, St Paul’s in Barnes. I came into my own towards the end when I could give up subjects I wasn’t good at. I did history, English and politics A-levels and I loved writing the essays and thinking about the world. I had a phenomenal experience at Oxford. Balliol is a great college. I also took part in rowing – it was a really nice, rounded experience.

Who is your mentor?

My dad [Peter Snow]. He’s such an amazing influence. I’ve learnt from him how to write, how to be a broadcaster. He’s one of the most phenomenal broadcasters of his generation. It’s a privilege to watch him work close up.

How physically fit are you?

Fairly. I’m on my feet a lot. I’m active but I’m not competitively fit. If you put me in a half marathon tomorrow, I’d die.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Ambition. I know lots of talented people who don’t do much. You have to push, not be scared of failure.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Yes – and I have a very low IQ. I’m terrible at those puzzles and things.

How politically committed are you?

I’m very political but nonpartisan.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I do. I travel, but my wife and I offset where we can – which is not good enough.

Do you have more than one home?


What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

Lots of my favourite books in lovely hardback editions.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I have simple tastes. I don’t spend on wine, food or clothes. But I like to get from A to B efficiently so I spend on transport: taxis, motorcycle taxis.

In what place are you happiest?

With my family down by the sea.

What ambitions do you still have?

Lots. Sail to the Antarctic, write a wildly popular book – but a good one … There are so many things.

What drives you on?

The desire to avoid mundanity and boredom and to create and overcome new challenges.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I’m going to be really cheesy and say producing an unbelievably intelligent, bright, charismatic little daughter.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Lots of things have fallen short of how I would have wanted them but I don’t think I could say one thing specifically.

Ambition: sail to the Antarctic

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He would be surprised by my entire lifestyle: working on television, writing history books, married with a child.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d go into a school without a great tradition of history teaching and try to turn it round. And I’d also be a lifeboatman.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?


Do you believe in an afterlife?


If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Nine. I can’t complain. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky – though things could all change.

“Battle Castles” by Dan Snow is published by HarperPress, £20. “Battle Castle” starts on Discovery Channel on October 11, 9pm.

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