Self's father, the academic Peter Self, and his mother, Elaine (born Rosenbloom) Self, moved to England from the United States and worked in the publishing industry. His brother, Will Self, is a novelist and broadcaster. Both Self and his brother have described their parents' marriage as troubled.
He began his career as an advertising copywriter and in 1982 founded Self Direct, a direct-marketing agency. He sold his business in 1993.
Self has written for the British media including Country Life, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. In 2009 he collaborated with Arabella Lennox-Boyd on "Welcome to Dream Acres", a Country Life series about landscape gardening.
Self published an autobiography, Self Abuse, in 2001. The Times stated that Self "is a talented writer with an extraordinary family history to relate. He catalogues the failings of a family so dysfunctional and cruel that even with his talent for sardonic one-liners the tone is one of unrelenting despair." In a humour column of The Guardian, a one-line summary of the book states, "The brother of the more famous Will ODs in therapy and splurges the results over 247 pages".
In 1982 Self was briefly married to the artist Jo Self, the mother of his eldest son. After divorcing her, he had two sons with financial journalist Perrie Croshaw, then ended their domestic partnership. In 2009 he married Marianne van Pelt, an American equestrienne and journalist. Their marriage celebration included a ceremony in Grand Central Terminal at the spot where they first met in person. They lived in Connecticut and upstate New York before moving to County Cork, Ireland. They divorced in 2013 and Self moved to Malta, while she continued to reside, write, and ride in Ireland.
- Self Abuse (John Murray, 2001), a memoir
- The Teenager's Guide to Money (Quercus, 2007), a personal finance guide for teenagers
- Honey's Natural Feeding Handbook for Dogs (Mammoth, 2012), a guide to diets for dogs
- Emerald (Thames & Hudson, 2013), a guide to the world’s emerald trade
- Good Money (Head of Zeus, 2017), a guide on how to become an ethical entrepreneur
- Hayes, M. Hunter (2007). Understanding Will Self. Univ of South Carolina Press. pp. 9–. ISBN 9781570036750. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- Neustatter, Angela (18 October 2007). "Relative Values: Jonathan Self and his brother Will". The Sunday Times. http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/fashion/trends/article73672.ece
- "Welcome to Dream Acres". 5 May 2009. http://www.countrylife.co.uk/countryside/article/322342/Welcome-to-Dream-Acres.html
- "Bad memories". The Times. 23 November 2002. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- "Self Abuse by Jonathan Self". The Guardian. 20 July 2001. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- Jonathan Self (29 November 2005). "Visions of loveliness". The Times. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- Jonathan Self (15 January 2005). "All my sons". The Times. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-14.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- See articles by her in The Irish Field (weekly) such as: "Global Trade", 3 May 2014; "Training for the Top", 10 May 2014; "Going Dutch", 17 May 2014.
- Brawarsky, Sandee (9 January 2009). "Marianne Van Pelt and Jonathan Self". New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
- "Self Discovery" (PDF). Inspire Magazine. Inspire Books. Summer 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 February 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
- "Self News"
- "About our book". Honey's Real Dog Food. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
- "About our philanthropy". Honey's Real Dog Food. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
Reference #17 is a broken link - correct url is http://honeysrealdogfood.com/about/