Dominique Lapierre was born in Châtelaillon-Plage, Charente-Maritime, France. At the age of thirteen, he traveled to America with his father who was a diplomat (Consul General of France). He attended the Jesuit school in New Orleans and became a paper boy for the New Orleans Item. He developed interests in traveling, writing and cars.
Lapierre renovated a 1927 Nash that his mother gave him and decided to travel across America during his summer holidays. To earn his way he painted mail boxes. Later, he received a scholarship to study the Aztec civilization in Mexico. He hitchhiked throughout America living an adventurous existence, wrote articles, washed windows in churches, gave lectures, and even found a job as a siren cleaner on a boat returning to Europe. One day a truck driver who picked him up on the road to Chicago stole his suitcase. He found the driver before the police did. The Chicago Tribune paid him $100 for his exclusive story. His twenty thousand miles of adventure beginning with just thirty dollars in his pocket led to his first book ‘A Dollar for a Thousand Kilometers’. It became one of the best sellers of postwar France and other European countries.
When Lapierre was eighteen, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He bought a 1937 Chrysler convertible for $30 and fell in love with a fashion editor. They were married in New York City Hall on his 21st birthday and drove to Mexico in the old Chrysler for their honeymoon. With only $300 in their pockets, they had just enough to buy gas, sandwiches, and cheap rooms in truckers’ motels. In Los Angeles, they won another $300 in a radio game show for Campbell soups. The prize included a case of soups, which was their only food for three weeks. Lapierre sold the Chrysler for $400 in San Francisco and bought two tickets on the SS Presidential Cleveland for Japan. The honeymoon lasted for a year. They worked their way across Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. When they returned to France, Lapierre wrote his second book, ‘Honeymoon around the Earth’.
On his return to Paris after his honeymoon, he was conscripted into the French army. After one year in the tank regiment, he was transferred to the SHAPE headquarters to serve as an interpreter. One day in the cafeteria he met a young American corporal, Larry Collins, a Yale graduate and draftee. They became friends instantly. When Collins was discharged he was offered a job with Procter & Gamble. Two days before reporting to the new job, the United Press offered him a job as caption writer at their Paris office, for much less money than offered by Procter & Gamble. Collins took the offer from United Press and was soon picked up by Newsweek to be their correspondent in the Middle East. When Lapierre was discharged, he found work as a reporter for the magazine Paris Match. Collins became the godfather of the Lapierre’s first child, Alexandra. On several occasions, Collins and Lapierre met while on assignment. In spite of their friendship they had to compete with each other for stories. But they decided to join forces to tell a big story which would appeal to both French and anglophone audiences. Their first bestseller Is Paris burning? sold close to ten million copies in thirty languages. In this book they mixed the modern technique of investigation journalism with the classical methods of historical research.
After that they spent four years in Jerusalem to reconstruct the birth of the state of Israel for the book O Jerusalem. Lapierre is proud that after spending a great deal of time in Jerusalem he knows each alley, square, street, and building in the Holy City intimately.
Two of Lapierre's books - Is Paris Burning? (co-written with Larry Collins) and City of Joy - have been made into films. Lapierre and Collins wrote several other books together, the last being Is New York Burning? (2005), before Collins' death in 2005.
The City of Joy is about the unsung heroes of the Pilkhana slum in Kolkata. Lapierre donated half the royalties he earned from this book to support several humanitarian projects in Kolkata, including refuge centers for leper and polio children, dispensaries, schools, rehabilitation workshops, education programs, sanitary actions, and hospital boats. To process and channel the charitable funds he founded an association called "Action aid for Calcutta lepers' children" (registered in France under the official name of Action pour les enfants des lépreux de Calcutta). Aware of the corruption in India, he organizes all his fund transfers to India in such a way as to ensure that the money reaches the right person for the right purpose. His wife since 1980, Dominique Conchon-Lapierre is his partner in the City of Joy Foundation.
The royalties from Five Past Midnight in Bhopal go to the Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal which provides free medical treatment to the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide Bhopal disaster. Lapierre also funds a primary school in Oriya Basti, one of the settlements described in Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.
At the age of six, he developed a passion for automobiles. Each summer, while at his grandparents' Atlantic coast beach house, he marvelled at the wonders of his uncle's American cars. When he was a Fullbright exchange student at Lafayette College, he bought, for thirty dollars, a convertible Chrysler Royal he found in a junkyard. Forty-five years later, he saw a photograph of the same Chrysler in a French vintage car magazine. The automobile was about to be auctioned in Poitier. He rushed to the auction, made a bid, and won it. When he was a student at the University of Paris, he acquired an old Amil car,which he and a classmate drove all the way to Ankara, Turkey. He has told stories about how he drove the car in reverse to have enough torque to get through the mountain passes. Later, in a Rolls Royce he bought on his fourteenth birthday, he drove from Bombay to Saint Tropez via Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.