Jacobson was born in Johannesburg in 1929 and grew up in Kimberley. He was educated at the Kimberley Boys’ High School and Witwatersrand University. After leaving university, he worked as a teacher, as a journalist, and in the family milling business in Kimberley. He settled in England in the mid-1950s, and since then has produced ten novels, two collections of short stories, two critical works and a volume of autobiographical essays. He has written extensively for journals and magazines in Britain and the United States. His last two books, The Electronic Elephant and Heshel’s Kingdom are eclectic in form, bringing together public history, private memoir and accounts of journeys undertaken by the author in Africa and eastern Europe. He has been awarded several major literary prizes and has lectured at universities in various parts of the world. Shortly after retiring from a professorship in English Literature at University College London, he was invited back to the College to give the Lord Northcliffe Lectures for the year 2001.