British writer and historian Patrick French died in London on Thursday after a four-year battle with cancer, his family told PTI. He was 56.

French is best known for The World Is What It Is the biography of Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul. The book won one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Hawthornden Prize in Britain.

He has also written best-selling books on India and Tibet, including Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division, and Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land.

“He was an exceptional father, friend, husband, teacher and mentor to many,” said Meru Gokhale, French’s wife and former publisher at the Penguin Press Group. “His kindness and love will stay with us forever. He went in peace, without suffering.”

Tributes poured in for the renowned author on Thursday.

Historian Ramachandra Guha said French was a wonderful writer and that he is deeply saddened by his death. “He was also a very fine human being, unfailingly generous to friends and strangers alike,” Guha tweeted.

Historian William Dalrymple said French was the “greatest biographer of our generation”.

He added: “I have loved and admired since we were both thirteen, and who was the best man at my wedding. He was funny and clever and charming, always full of enthusiasm and energy.”

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor offered his condolences to Gokhale and his mother-in-law, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Namita Gokhale. “We have lost an outstanding writer and fine human being,” he tweeted.