He was born into a Jewish family in Tunis, Tunisia. When he was ten years old, his family emigrated to France. He was married to photographer Bettina Rheims, with whom he has collaborated frequently, and had a son, Virgile. His novel La terreur dans le boudoir was adapted by Benoît Jacquot for the 2000 French film Sade. He is also noted for his books on Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa--Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo da Vinci,1991 Leonardo: The Artist and the Man (1995), and Mona Lisa: The Enigma (2005). In 2008 he won the prix Interallié for his novel Le Premier Principe - Le Second Principe.