Robert Ludlum was born in New York City. His father, George Hartford Ludlum, was a businessman; he died in 1934. Ludlum grew up in New Jersey. He was educated privately and at the Chesire Academy, Connecticut. Before acting in the comedy Junior Miss on Broadway at sixteen, Ludlum had already appeared in school theatricals - his first ambition, however, was to be a quaterback in football. During World War II Ludlum tried to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. The attempt failed and Ludlum served as an infantryma in 1945- 47 in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was was posted to the South Pacific, where he wrote a manuscript of some two hundred pages of his impressions. After studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Ludlum received his B.A. in 1951. In the same year he married the actress Mary Ryducha; they had three children.
In the 1950s Ludlum worked as a stage and television actor. He was in 200 television dramas, among them The Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, and Robert Montgomery Presents. Usually he was casted as a lawyer or a killer. In The Strong Are Lonely by Fritz Hichwalder (1952) Ludlum played a soldier, he was Spartacus in The Gladiator (1954), and D'Estivel in Saint Joan by G.B. Shaw (1956). In 1957 he became a producer at the North Jersey Playhouse, Fort Lee, New Jersey and in 1960 he opened the Playhouse-on-the-Mall in Paramus.
After producing 300 stage productions for New York and regional theatre, Ludlum wrote his first novel, The Scarlatti Inheritance (1971), a tale about Nazis and international financiers. However, he had been a long time "a closet writer," as he once said. The book was published after ten rejection slips, but it became an immediate best-seller. The idea for the story came from an old article in the Illustrated London News, in which a photograph showed a German pushing a wheelbarrow full of inflation banknotes, and another picture showed members of the Nazi Party. Ludlum's next thriller, The Osterman Weekend (1973), was later made into a film, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1983. In the story a television news executive, John Tanner, is recruited by CIA to reveal a ring of Soviet agents, who are perhaps his close friends. Tanner became the prototype of Ludlum's male protagonist, who is more lucky and resourceful than the villains ever could guess - and who finds it hard to trust anyone.
From the mid-1970s, Ludlum was a full-time writer. From Leonia, New Jersey, the Ludlums moved to Long Island, where they bought a two-hundred-year-old clapboard farmhouse. In Florida they had a second home. Ludlum also traveled widely to collect background material for his novels. Paris become his favorite city.
The Bourne Identity (1980) started a series of novels, in which an American counter-assassin and his nearly superhuman opponent, Carlos, confront in different parts of the world. The character of Carlos was partly based on the Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who in real life was captured in 1994 in Sudan. Carlos the Jackal has been linked to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and other acts of terrorism. He is serving a life sentence in a French prison. In The Bourne Identity the protagonist is found half-dead and without memory of who he is. It gradually turns out that he is David Webb, a young Far East scholar. Webb has got a new identity from CIA as Jason Bourne to kill Carlos, another assassin, but is betrayed by the officials. The Bourne Supremacy brought on the stage Bourne's sadistic doppelganger, who has started to execute people in Hong Kong. In the third novel, The Bourne Ultimatum, the showdown between Carlos and Bourne was set in Russia. "The Bourne Supremacy may be Mr. Ludlum's most overwrought, speciously motivated, spuriously complicated story to date. It's difficult to tell whether he's writing worse or it's just getting easier to spot his tricks. And yet - shameful to admit - one keeps reading. Is it the violence of the action? The adolescence of the fantasy? The maddening convolutions of the plot? Whatever, the effect is like dessert after certain rich meals. It's too much. One shouldn't. One doesn't really feel like it. ''Oh, my God,'' one gasps, contemplating the enormity of it. And promptly devours the entire concoction." (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in The New York Times, March 6, 1986) The fourth novel in the series, The Bourne Legacy (2004), was written by Eric Van Lustbader (b. 1946), who has blended in his earlier works ninja mysticism, eroticism, exotic locations, and government corruption.
In Ludlum's novels multinational right-wing intrigues were often born from economic reasons. He also drew parallels between the Nazis and modern day fanatics striving for power. "When the chaos becomes intolerable, it would be their excuse to march in military units and assume the controls, initially with martial law,'' speculates one of Ludlum's characters in The Aquitaine Progression (1984). In The Matarese Circle (1979) CIA and KGB join their forces, like United States and the Soviet Union during World War II, to fight against a circle of terrorists plotting against superpowers. The Matarese dynasty returned again in The Matarese Countdown (1997), in which its members have infiltrated the CIA and try to establish a new world economic order.
Ludlum also published books under the pseudonyms Jonathan Ryder (Trevayne and The Cry of the Halidon) and Michael Shepherd (The Road to Gandolpho) - the latter was written in humorist style. - Ludlum died of a heart attack on March 12, 2001, in Naples, Florida. The Prometheus Deception (2000) was his most prophetic novel. In the story a series of terrorist attacks are used in an international conspiracy to restrict civil rights and to increase electronic surveillance for security reasons. The purpose is good - to protect détente and stop wars and crimes. The protagonist is Nicholas Bryson, a deep-cover agent, who trusts his instincts while his opponents act mechanically, according to their great plan. Bryson has worked years for a shadowy organization called the Directorate. Everybody lies to him, and Ludlum makes it clear to his readers, that they should not believe generally accepted "truths", world leaders or UN Secretary-General. And again the agent, surrounded by enemies, is fighting himself out of all kinds of corners - he escapes from a ship, a French château full of security men, and a Chinese store house. Bryson has much reasons to suspect the intentions of governmental organizations, CIA, FBI, and others, and shout in his anger: "The goddamn GRU, the Russians--that's all in the past. Maybe you Cold War cowboys at Langley haven't yet heard the news--the war's over!" The Tristan Betrayal (2003) appeared with the note: "Since his death, the Estate of Robert Ludlum has worked with a careful selected author and editor to prepare and edit this work for publication."