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 Douglas Kennedy was born in New York City in 1955, the son of a commodities broker and a production assistant at NBC. He was educated at The Collegiate School and graduated with a B.A. magna cum laude from Bowdoin College in 1976. He also spent a year studying at Trinity College Dublin. "I was a history major," Kennedy explained. "Retrospectively, I think the history major provides much better training for a novelist. So much of what I do in my own fiction is observational; is looking at behavior. By studying human history you really see how human folly endlessly repeats itself. In my work—in whatever form it takes—I am very much grappling with what it means to be American in this way."

In 1977, he returned to Dublin and started a co-operative theatre company with a friend. He was later hired to run the Abbey Theatre's second house, The Peacock. At the age of 28, he resigned from The Peacock to write full-time. After several radio plays for the BBC and one stage play, he decided to switch directions and wrote his first book, a narrative account of his travels in Egypt called Beyond the Pyramids, which was published in 1988. Kennedy and his then-wife moved to London that year, where Kennedy expanded his journalistic work, and wrote for The Sunday TimesThe Sunday TelegraphThe Listener, the New Statesman, and the British editions of Esquire and GQ.

Kennedy is the author of twelve novels, including the international bestsellers The Big Picture, The Pursuit of Happiness, Leaving the World and The Moment. His latest novel, The Heat of Betrayal, was published by Random House UK on 23 April 2015 and in France by Belfond as Mirage on 7 May 2015, with an American publication in February 2016, under the title The Blue Hour by Atria (a division of Simon and Schuster). He is also the author of three highly praised travel books.

More than 14 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide and his work has been translated into twenty-two languages. Kennedy’s novels are often written in European landscapes, and have been particularly acclaimed and beloved in France; his novel, Five Days, published by Atria in April 2013 and by Belfond in October 2013, became a #1 Bestseller in France, as did his earlier novels, The Moment and Leaving the World. Kennedy received the French decoration Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2007. In November 2009, he received the first “Grand Prix du Figaro,” awarded by the newspaper Le Figaro.

Kennedy has two children, Max and Amelia. He divides his time between London, Berlin, Paris and New York City