Born in 1947, David Marr grew up and went to school and university in Sydney, New South Wales. Although he is a qualified solicitor and barrister he has never practised law. From 1972, after travelling in Europe and Africa, Marr worked as a journalist on the Bulletin magazine and in 1976 he became arts editor of the National Times.
In 1985 Marr joined the ABC's Four Corners as a reporter. His account of the deaths of Aborigines in custody in Western Australia, Black Death, won a Walkley Award and a Human Rights Commission Award.
His biography of the then Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick titled Barwick, published in 1980, won the NSW Premier's Prize that year. He wrote his second book, The Ivanov Trail (1983), after covering the Royal Commission into Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The book is a compelling account of espionage, ambition and power play.
Marr is perhaps best known for his third book, Patrick White: A Life, published in 1991, and for which he won much critical acclaim. Marr notes that White himself did not request any cuts to the biography. The book has been a best seller in Australia and has won several awards. Marr subsequently went on to edit a collection of White's letters, Patrick White: Letters (1994). The letters cover a span of seventy years and range over many topics and issues, including love, friendship, politics, nuclear disarmament, literary criticism and gossip. In all, David Marr devoted about nine years of his own life to the life of White.
Marr has also published: The High Price of Heaven (1999), a collection of essays about the enemies of pleasure and freedom; with Marian Wilkinson, Dark Victory (2004), an account of the Tampa, the Children Overboard affair and the Howard Government's Pacific Solution, The Henson Case (2008) on the issues raised by Bill Henson's photographs of children and Panic (2011) an investigation into what makes Australians paranoid. The Henson Case was shortlisted for the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate in the 2009 Victorian Premier's Awards and the Non-Fiction Prize in the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.
Marr has written many articles and reviews and has been a feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2010, he won a Walkley Award for Magazine Feature Writing, and was shortlisted for the 2011 Queensland Premier's Literary Award, Literary or Media work Advancing Public Debate, for his Quarterly Essay, 'Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd'. Marr resigned from his position as senior writer with the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012, just prior to his sixty-fifth birthday.