According to a May 2010 article and interview, Enzensberger was born in 1929 in a small town in Bavaria and is the eldest of four boys. He is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich. The Enzensberger family moved to Nuremberg, the ceremonial birthplace of National Socialism, in 1931.Julius Streicher, the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, was their next-door neighbour. Hans Magnus joined the Hitler Youth in his teens, but was expelled soon afterwards. "I have always been incapable of being a good comrade. I can't stay in line. It's not in my character. It may be a defect, but I can't help it."
Enzensberger studied literature and philosophy at the universities of Erlangen, Freiburg and Hamburg, and at the Sorbonne in Paris, receiving his doctorate in 1955 for a thesis about Clemens Brentano's poetry. Until 1957 he worked as a radio editor in Stuttgart. He participated in several gatherings of Group 47. Between 1965 and 1975 he edited the magazine "Kursbuch". Since 1985 he has been the editor of the prestigious book series Die Andere Bibliothek, published in Frankfurt, and now containing almost 250 titles. Together with Gaston Salvatore, Enzensberger was the founder of the monthly TransAtlantik. His own work has been translated into more than 40 languages.
Enzensberger has a sarcastic, ironic tone in many of his poems. For example, the poem "Middle Class Blues" consists of various typicalities of middle class life, with the phrase "we can't complain" repeated several times, and concludes with "what are we waiting for?". Many of his poems also feature themes of civil unrest over economic and class based issues. Though primarily a poet and essayist, he also makes excursions into theater, film, opera, radio drama, reportage, translation. He has written novels and several books for children (including The Number Devil, an exploration of mathematics) and is co-author of a book for German as a foreign language(Die Suche). He also invented and collaborated in the construction of a machine which automatically composes poems. It was used during the 2006 Football World Cup to commentate on games.
In 2009, Enzensberger received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, which also awards the annual Griffin Poetry Prize.