Steinhauer was born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and grew up in Virginia. He attended university at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and The University of Texas, Austin. He received an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College in Boston.
After graduation, Steinhauer received a yearlong Fulbright grant to write a novel in Romania, about their 1989 revolution. It was called Tzara's Monocle, and when he moved to New York City afterward, he used that manuscript to secure a literary agent. However, it was with another book, the historical mystery set in Eastern Europe, The Bridge of Sighs, that Steinhauer first found publication.
His 2009 CIA novel, The Tourist, received positive reviews and is being developed for film by Sony Pictures Entertainment for Doug Liman to direct. A 2010 follow-up, The Nearest Exit was also positively reviewed.
Since 2003, he has lived in Budapest in Hungary. During the winter of 2009/10, Steinhauer was the Picador Guest Professor for Literature at the University of Leipzig's Institute for American Studies in Leipzig, Germany.
The Yalta Boulevard Sequence
The Bridge of Sighs was the first in a five-book series of thrillers chronicling the evolution of a fictional Eastern European country situated in the historical location of Ruthenia (now part of the Ukraine) during the Cold War, with one book for each decade. Each book also focuses on a different main character.
- The Bridge of Sighs (2003) — Emil Brod, 1948 (nominated for five awards)
- The Confession (2004) — Ferenc Kolyeszar, 1956
- 36 Yalta Boulevard (2005) — Brano Sev, 1966–1967
- Liberation Movements (2006) — Brano Sev, Katja Drdova, Gavra Noukas, 1968 & 1975 (nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel)
- Victory Square (2007) — The final book in the series, dealing with 1989, the end of communism, and the return to the main character of the first book, Emil Brod.
The Milo Weaver Trilogy
- The Tourist (2009) — The first in a trilogy of espionage novels focused on a central character, Milo Weaver. Stephen King, in a review in Entertainment Weekly, said, "Here's the best spy novel I've ever read that wasn't written by John le Carré."  Reached #19 on the New York Times Best Seller List.
- The Nearest Exit (2010) — The second Milo Weaver novel.
- An American Spy (2012) -- The third Milo Weaver novel was published in March 2012, according to the publisher's website. The review in the New York Times Book Review declared, "Not since John le Carré has a writer so vividly evoked the multilayered, multifaceted, deeply paranoid world of espionage, in which identities and allegiances are malleable and ever shifting, the mirrors of loyalty and betrayal reflecting one another to infinity."
- Fleming, Mike (September 7, 2012). "Sony Acquires Olen Steinhauer Novel ‘The Tourist’ For Doug Liman To Direct". Deadline.com. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- Hammer, Joshua (May 13, 2010). "Milo’s People". The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
- "The Picador Guest Professorship for Literature | American Studies Leipzig". Americanstudies.uni-leipzig.de. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
- "The Tourist, Stephen King: 7 Great Books for Summer". Entertainment Weekly.
- "Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. 2009-04-05.
- Olen Steinhauer official website
- Contemporary Nomad (edited by Steinhauer)
- "Pawn's Move: 'An American Spy,' by Olen Steinhauer," New York Times, April 1, 2012, pg BR9