James Patterson: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

In this lesson, you will learn about the life and work of novelist James Patterson, including his famous Alex Cross series and his books for young readers. Read the article and test yourself with the quiz!


Most authors are known for one particular book or, if they are lucky, a series of books. It is quite rare to write 95 books and reach 330 million copies sold, but James Patterson has accomplished exactly exactly that feat. James Patterson is a prolific writer who focuses mainly on fiction. He is known for his best selling series about detective Alex Cross as well as for his numerous series for children, teenagers, and adults. In 2010, his books were published in 38 different languages, reaching people all over the world.

Biography and Books

James Patterson was born to Charles and Isabelle Patterson in 1947, in New York. His father came from humble beginnings, but he put himself through college and became an insurance agent. His mother was a teacher who stayed at home with Patterson and his siblings. Patterson himself earned his B.A. at Manhattan College, and a Masters degree at Vanderbilt University; both degrees were in English, and Patterson earned both degrees with honors.

He was accepted to Vanderbilt's PhD program, but instead decided to get real life experience with a job. He worked in the advertising industry, rising through the ranks from a copywriter to a creative director at the firm, J. Walter Thompson, until his retirement in 1996. He is married to Susan, who was also in advertising, and they have a son, Jack.

The author James Patterson
James Patterson

In 1976, Patterson published his first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, for which he received the Edgar Award for a first novel. It received modest sales, but his next few books over the next few years did not sell very well at all. However, they were later republished under different names after the success of Patterson's later work. It was in 1993 that the first Alex Cross book, Along Came a Spider was published. The series was so successful that it propelled Patterson into stardom. With the success of the Alex Cross series, readers all over the world would come to enjoy Patterson's books.

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