The son of Michael William McCrum, a Cambridge ancient historian, McCrum was educated at Sherborne School, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MA) and the University of Pennsylvania as a Thouron Scholar.
McCrum was editorial director at Faber & Faber from 1979 to 1989 and editor-in-chief there from 1990 to 1996. He served as literary editor of The Observer for more than ten years. In May 2008 he was appointed associate editor of The Observer.
In August 2017, McCrum's Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame was published, taking its title from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The book was adapted and broadcast as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week the following month.
In 1995, McCrum suffered a massive stroke. The devastating experience and his recovery is chronicled in My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke. He had been married to Sarah Lyall, an American journalist, for only two months and the book includes diary entries made by his wife. He also became a patron of the UK charity Different Strokes, which provides information and support for younger stroke survivors.
Sarah Lyall, who writes for The New York Times, lived in London from 1995 to 2013 and was the newspaper's London correspondent. She returned to New York with the couple's daughters in 2013; Lyall and McCrum now have a transatlantic relationship.
McCrum describes himself as "a confused non-believer".
- In the Secret State. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
- A Loss of Heart. 1982
- The Fabulous Englishman UK: Hamish Hamilton Ltd8, 1984.
- Mainland. New York: Knopf, 1991.
- The Psychological Moment. London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1993.
- Jubilee. New York: Knopf, 1994. ISBN 0-679-42987-5
- Suspicion. New York: Norton, 1997. ISBN 0-393-04046-1
- (With William Cran and Robert MacNeil) The Story of English. New York: Elisabeth Sifton, 1986.
- My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke. New York: Norton, 1998. ISBN 0-393-04656-7 ISBN 978-0393046564
- P. G. Wodehouse: A Life. New York: Norton, 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-05159-9
- Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language. New York: Norton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-06255-7
- Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame. London: Picador, 2017. ISBN 978-1-5098-1528-9
- Debrett's People of Today, 2001.
- McCrum, Robert (25 May 2008). "Have blogs been good for books?". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
- McCrum, Robert (25 May 2008). "A thriller in ten chapters". The Observer. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
- Heriot-Watt University – Honorary Graduates Archived 17 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine
- McCrum, Robert (24 August 2017). Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame (hardback ed.). Picador. ISBN 978-1509815289.
- Morrison, Blake (6 July 2014). "Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum review – how to think about death". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
- Reader: Nicky Henson; Author: Robert McCrum; Abridger: Barry Johnston; Producer: David Roper (4 September 2017). "Book of the Week: Every Third Thought Episode 1 of 5". Book of the Week. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
- Susannah Butter and Sarah Lyall, "'Sometimes I felt loud and gauche, like a guest who shows up at a memorial service wearing a Hawaiian shirt': the thoughts of a New York Times correspondent on leaving London", London Evening Standard, 23 August 2013.
- "When thoughts often turn to death", The Economist, 17 August 2017.
- Robert McCrum official website – Invalid Link