Jack was born in Farnworth, Lancashire, to parents who had migrated from Fife in 1930. The family returned to Scotland when he was seven, in 1952. He grew up in North Queensferry and was educated there and at Dunfermline High School.
After a false start as a would-be librarian, he joined The Glasgow Herald as a trainee journalist in 1965 and after a short spell in its head office was sent to work on two weekly papers in Lanarkshire, the now-defunct Cambuslang Advertiser and the East Kilbride News. Later he worked for the Scottish Daily Express at its Glasgow offices. In 1970, he joined The Sunday Times in London, where he became a section editor and then a foreign correspondent-cum-feature writer with a special interest in South Asia and particularly India, which he began to visit in the mid 1970s. From 1986 to 1989, he wrote for The Observer and Vanity Fair, and then joined the team that created The Independent on Sunday, which he edited from 1991 to 1995. His editorship of the quarterly Granta magazine, to which he had previously contributed as a writer, spanned 47 issues over twelve years to 2007. While at Granta, Jack also commissioned and edited books by Diana Athill, Simon Gray, Janet Malcolm and Travis Elborough, among others. He has contributed regularly to The Guardian since 2001, and began to write a weekly column for the paper six years later. He occasionally teaches at the India Institute, King's College London.
In 2009, Jack published a collection of essays and previously unpublished writings entitled The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain. One reviewer wrote of Jack's handling of time in this book: "He is up there with a fiction writer such as Alice Munro in his grasp of its ebb and flow, his awareness that its strong but rapidly changing currents often leave us wondering not only what we can remember, but what we should." Alexander Chancellor called the book "superb", and added: "Collections of columns and newspaper articles are not usually a very good idea. They quickly become stale and dated, and one sometimes wonders what the point of them is except to deceive journalists into thinking that their ephemeral scribblings deserve some permanence. Jack is an exception to the rule." The Economist wrote: "At the heart of the book are three magnificent essays, about the Hatfield train crash of 2000; the sinking of the Titanic and the film Titanic (1997); and the lost cinemas of Farnworth, Mr Jack's home town, which is also a circuitous epitaph for a lost brother. His contributions to 'this unequal struggle to preserve and remember' cumulatively transcend journalism and attain the status of literature."
Jack's awards include Journalist of the Year (Granada TV's What the Papers Say award, 1985), Reporter of the Year (British Press Awards, 1988) and Editor of the Year (Newspaper Industry Awards, 1993). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
He married Aparna Bagchi in 1979; the couple divorced in 1992. He lives in Highbury, London, with his second wife, Lindy Sharpe. They have two grown-up children and spend a part of every year on the Isle of Bute in the Firth of Clyde.
Jack's mother was born in Kirkcaldy and brought up in Hill of Beath and his father was born in Dunfermline. His paternal grandfather was from Glasgow, his paternal grandmother born in India and they had lived in the now-demolished mining village of Lassodie, between Dunfermline and Kelty.
- Jack, Ian (1987). Before the Oil Ran Out: Britain 1977–86. London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-22020-2.
- —— (2001). The Crash that Stopped Britain. London: Granta. ISBN 1-86207-468-2.
- —— (2009). The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0-224-08735-3.
- —— (2013). Mofussil Junction. New Delhi: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-08644-3.
Bibliography as editor/contributor
- Athill, Diana (2009). Life Class: The Selected Memoirs of Diana Athill. London: Granta. ISBN 9781847081469. Introduction by Ian Jack.
- Chaudhuri, Nirad (2001). The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian. New York: New York Review of Books Classics. ISBN 9780940322820. Introduction by Ian Jack.
- Jack, Ian (as editor) (2015). Granta 130 India: Another Way of Seeing. London: Granta. ISBN 9781905881857.
- Jack, Ian (as editor) (2005). The Granta Book of India. London: Granta/Grove Press. ISBN 9781862077843.
- Jack, Ian (as editor) (1998). The Granta Book of Reportage. London: Granta. ISBN 9781862071933.
- Jack, Ian (as editor) (1998). The Granta Book of Travel. London: Granta. ISBN 978-1862071100.
- Malcolm, Janet (2004). The Journalist and the Murderer. London: Granta. ISBN 9781862076372. Introduction by Ian Jack.
- Before The Oil Ran Out.Britain 1977-1987.Flamingo-Fontana Books 1988.
- Who’s Who 2010, A&C Black, 2010
- "Ian Jack - Literature". Literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "Ian Jack". Granta.com. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "Ian Jack". The Guardian. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Jack, Ian (7 May 1986). "Ian Jack". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Oliver Luft. "Timeline: a history of the Independent newspapers - from City Road to Kensington via 'Reservoir Dogs' | Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "King's College London – Ian Jack". Kcl.ac.uk. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "Home". Randomhouse.co.uk. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Cooke, Rachel (6 September 2009). "The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain by Ian Jack". The Observer. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
- Chancellor, Alexander (9 September 2010). "A lost civilisation". Spectator Book Club. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Goodbye to all that". The Economist. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- RSL Fellows (16 March 2016). "Royal Society of Literature » Current RSL Fellows". Rsliterature.org. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Jack, Ian. The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (Kindle)
- Jack, Ian. "Cousin Walter" (Kindle)
|chapter-url=(help). The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain.
My great grandfather Birmingham was an Irishman (nobody knew from where, or of what religion) who joined the Royal Artillery and went to India, where most of his children were born, including my father's mother
- Jack, Ian (16 October 2016). "16/10/2016, Good Morning Scotland - BBC Radio Scotland". Good Morning Scotland (Interview). Interviewed by Gordon Brewer. BBC Radio Scotland. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
- "We know the terrible legacy of our love of fossil fuels. But will it stop us? No chance". 11 November 2011 – via The Guardian.
- Diana Athill (7 October 2010). "Life Class | What's New". Granta Books. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri – New York Review Books". Nyrb.com. 30 September 2001. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "Granta 130: India - Granta Magazine". Granta.com. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- Ian Jack (Editor). The Granta Book of India (9781862077843): Ian Jack: Books. ISBN 1862077843.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Ian Jack (Author). The Granta Book of Reportage: Ian Jack: 9781862071933: Amazon.com: Books. ISBN 1862071934.
- Ian Jack (Introduction). The Granta Book of Travel (Import): Ian Jack: 9781862071100: Amazon.com: Books. ISBN 1862071101.
- Janet Malcolm. "The Journalist And The Murderer | What's New". Granta Books. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
| Editor of The Independent on Sunday
| Editor of Granta