Skip to main content

Ludlum, Robert (1927—)

Ludlum, Robert (1927—)

One of the most commercially successful authors of the twentieth century, Robert Ludlum is arguably the most widely read writer of the espionage thriller genre. He is the author of nineteen bestselling novels, and his books have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.

Born May 25, 1927 in New York City, Ludlum lost his father when he was only seven. By the time he was sixteen, he had decided that he wanted to be an actor. In 1943, he was cast in the Broadway show Junior Miss, but two years later he enlisted in the Marines. After his stint in the military, Ludlum went to Wesleyan University. By 1951, Ludlum had completed his bachelor's degree and married his girlfriend Mary. For much of the 1950s, Ludlum worked as an actor, moving between summer stock theaters and Broadway, and by the mid-1950s he began to get regular work on television. He appeared in well over 200 of the plays presented on such shows as The Kraft Television Theater and Studio One.

By 1956, Ludlum had moved back to Broadway and become a producer. Among his successes, Ludlum brought The Owl and the Pussycat to the Great White Way in 1956, as well as a revival of The Front Page. He later founded The Playhouse-on-the-Mall in Paramus, New Jersey, which did well throughout the 1960s. While he worked on Broadway, Ludlum continued to find steady employment on television, doing voice-overs for television commercials. It was during this time that Ludlum found his true calling as an author.

Robert Ludlum started writing books in the late 1960s, and his first novel, The Scarlatti Inheritance, was released in 1971. Ludlum garnered critical praise for his complex characters and use of tension. He quickly followed his initial success with the publication of The Osterman Weekend in 1972 and The Matlock Paper and Trevayne in 1973. Readers throughout the world snatched up his books, and in the space of only three years, Ludlum was catapulted to the status of bestselling author. Since the early-1970s, Ludlum has continued to churn out bestsellers. Five of his books have been made into motion pictures, with others in development.

Ludlum's novels generally have extremely complicated plots; his works often reach several hundred pages in length, and the number of characters, plot twists, betrayals, and surprises can seem infinite. Most of Ludlum's books revolve around some form of global domination conspiracy. In some novels, such as The Holcroft Covenant, he uses the revival of the Nazi movement. In others, it is a shadow society of powerful industrialists and politicians. In either case, the protagonist is a lone individual who accidentally discovers the conspiracy and must expose it before global domination is achieved. Although the hero often succeeds, some of Ludlum's novels end with the conspiracy moving forward despite the protagonist's efforts.

Ludlum's books build on traditional conspiracy theories surrounding the Freemasons and the Illuminati. He has helped to popularize a belief in wide-ranging underground conspiracies that know no bounds. These beliefs have spread to other media outlets, such as The X-Files, due in no small part to the success of Ludlum's novels. Although he is not the only author to write about underground governments, his continuing success is unparalleled.

—Geoff Peterson

Further Reading:

Macdonald, G. Robert Ludlum: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ludlum, Robert (1927—)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . 24 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Ludlum, Robert (1927—)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . (January 24, 2019).

"Ludlum, Robert (1927—)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . Retrieved January 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.