Federspiel grew up in Davos and attended secondary school in Basel. From 1951 he worked as a journalist and film critic for several Swiss newspapers, and spent time in Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland and the USA. Federspiel authored more than 20 novels and short story collections.
In the English-speaking world his best-known work was The Ballad of Typhoid Mary. A historical novel about the life of Mary Mallon, it was published in German in 1982, and published in English translation in 1983 by Random House.
Federspiel died on 25 February 2007 in Basel, having been missing since 12 January 2007. The cause of death was assumed to be suicide.
- "Jürg Federspiel, Who Wrote ‘Typhoid Mary,’ Dies at 75". New York Times. 28 February 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
- Belling, Catherine (2008-07-21). "Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database -- Federspiel, J. F. -- The Ballad of Typhoid Mary". New York University. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
- Jürg Federspiel tot aufgefunden, NZZ Online, retrieved 2011-09-11