Born in Douglaston, New York, James’s life had taken him to South Bend, Indiana for the world’s first Earth Day. When schoolmates quit school to hit the streets in environmental protest, James stayed behind. He was desperate to save the natural world from ecological collapse, and study was somehow a part of it.
That study included poetry, the violin, French literature, philosophy (specializing in Kant and Wittgenstein), and entomology (the first attempts to breed tarantulas born in a household setting). And law. James has become one of the world’s leading environmental lawyers.
Poetry is the core strand of James’s creative life, though his first book A Field Guide to the Soul is a canonical book of spiritual pratice. Raised a Roman Catholic, authorized to teach by a Hindu holywoman, a member of the Western Order of Sufis, James is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.
James’s first book for Barbican Press was his ecological thriller Sphinx: The Second Coming which spins the gods of Ancient Egypt into a multi-universe adventure (focused, of course, on saving planet Earth!). His legal thriller Immediate Harm tackles the issue of GM crops.
Now based in London and the Pyrenees, James is the founding CEO of ClientEarth, a not-for-profit environmental law organisation, and a man who The New Statesman named as one of 10 people who could change the world. Find the story of that journey in Client Earth (Scribe 2018), which James wrote with his husband Martin Goodman, and which received the Judges’ Selection, Business Book of the Year Award 2018.
James’s first collection of poems, The Feynman Challenge, was published in 2017. E.O.Wilson wrote of this collection: ‘In this unusual and exceptionally interesting work, James Thornton speaks as both a poet who has colonised science and a scientist who speaks a poetic tongue.’ James’s second collection Notes from a Mountain Village is composed of verses drawn from observations over twenty-five years of visiting his home in a French Pyrenean village.