Arun Shourie was born in Jalandar, India, on 2 November 1941. He studied at Modern School, Barakhamba and did his bachelor's in Economics(H) from St. Stephen's College, Delhi University. He obtained his doctorate in Economics from Syracuse University in 1966.
Shortly after receiving PhD in economics from Syracuse University Shourie joined World Bank as an economist in 1967 where he worked for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, between 1972–74, he was a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission and it was around this time that he began writing articles as a journalist, criticising economic policy.
In 1975, during The Emergency imposed by then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, Shourie began writing for the Indian Express in opposition to what he saw as an attack on civil liberties. The newspaper, owned by Ramnath Goenka, was a focal point for the government's efforts at censorship. He became a fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research in 1976. In January 1979, Goenka appointed Shourie as executive editor of the newspaper, giving him a carte blanche to do with it as he saw fit. He developed a reputation as an intelligent, fearless writer and editor who campaigned for freedom of the press, exposed corruption and defended civil liberties such that, in the words of Martha Nussbaum, "his dedication to the truth has won admiration throughout the political spectrum".
Shourie has been called a "veteran journalist". Shourie was a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982, in the Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts category as "a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice." In 2000, he was named as one of the International Press Institute's World Press Freedom Heroes. He has also been named International Editor of the Year Award and was awarded The Freedom to Publish Award.
He was nominated from the state of Uttar Pradesh as a BJP representative for two successive tenures in the Rajya Sabha, thus being a Member of Parliament for 1998–2004 and 2004–2010. He held the office of the Minister of Disinvestment, Communication and Information Technology in the government of India under Vajpayee's prime ministership. As Disinvestment Minister, he led the sale of Maruti, VSNL, Hindustan Zinc among others.
Shourie was among many who objected to The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, which the government headed by Rajiv Gandhi proposed to alleviate communal violence and retain Muslim votes. Claimed by the government to be a reinforcement of India's constitutional secularism, it was widely criticised by both Muslims and Hindus. The liberals among them, says Ainslie Embree, saw it as "a capitulation to the forces of Islamic obscurantism, a return ... to the thirteenth century"; the Hindu revivalist critics thought it was "weakening Indian unity". Shourie wrote articles that tried to show that the treatment of women as required by the Quran would in fact offer them protection, although the application of Islamic law in practice was oppressing them. He was in turn criticised for what was perceived as a thinly-veiled attack on Islam itself, with Rafiq Zakaria, the Muslim scholar, saying that Shourie's concern for reform of Islam was in fact demonstrative of Hindu contempt that used the plight of Muslim women as an example of the backwardness of the community. Vir Sanghvi termed it "Hindu chauvinism with a liberal face".
After the defeat of the BJP in 2009 general elections, Shourie asked for introspection and accountability within the party. He deplored factionalism within the party and those who brief journalists to aid their own agenda.
Shourie has been described by Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist, as "a writer sympathetic to militant Hindu themes" and has publicly voiced support for the aims of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a nationalist Hindutva organisation. This has caused unease among some of those who admire his journalism. He has said that, although he sees a danger from perceived Muslim violence such as the Godhra train burning incident of 2002, people have tended to redefine the "Hindutva" term. He says that prominent members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which he is a member and which has ties to the RSS — specifically, L. K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee — have shown their opposition to sectarian hatred and in their attempts to make the BJP inclusive have tried to marginalise those on both the Muslim and Hindu extremes who promote such hatred.
Arun Shourie has written numerous books that, according to Nussbaum, are
recognisably the creation of a smart, determined, muckraking journalist, They are polemical, ad hominem, often extremely shrill in tone. ... But despite their style, the books are obviously the work of a brilliant man, with a wide if idiosyncratic learning, a passion for the freedoms of speech and press, and a desire to get beneath current events to address underlying issues.
His writings have gained him a considerable following. They were initially on a diverse range of subjects related to his journalistic interests, including corruption and polemics against B. R. Ambedkar and left-wing historians. He subsequently concentrated his polemicism mostly on issues relating to the detrimental effects of religion on society, producing critiques of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. With the exception of Gandhi, he has little time for any religious thinker and, says Nussbaum, his books "nowhere ... seek to provide balance; nowhere is there a sense of complexity. All have the same mocking, superior tone."
Historian D.N. Jha criticized Shourie's book Eminent Historians, which concerned the NCERT controversy, that it contains "slander" and "has nothing to do with history."Does He Know a Mother's Heart? How Suffering Refutes Religions (2011, ISBN 9789350290910)
We Must Have No Price
Worshipping False Gods (2012, ISBN 9789350293430)
A Secular Agenda: For Saving Our Country, for Welding it (1993, ISBN 9788190019934),
Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud (1998, ISBN 81-900199-8-8)
Falling Over Backwards: An essay against Reservations and against Judicial populism (2012, ISBN 9789350293553)
The World of Fatwas or the Sharia in Action: (2012, ISBN 9789350293423)
Are We Deceiving Ourselves Again
Where Will All This Take Us
The Parliamentary System
Courts and their Judgements: Premises, Prerequisites, Consequences
Governance and the sclerosis that has set in (2005, ISBN 9788129105240)
Harvesting Our Souls
Hinduism: Essence and Consequence
Individuals, Institutions, Processes : How One may Strengthen the Other in India Today
Institutions in the Janata Phase
Missionaries in India 
Arun Shourie and his Christian critics
Mrs Gandhi's Second Reign
Only Fatherland : Communists, 'Quit India,' and the Soviet Union
Religion in Politics
Symptoms of Fascism
These Lethal, Inexorable Laws: Rajiv, His Men and His Regime
The State As Charade: V. P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and the Rest
Will the Iron Fence Save a Tree Hollowed by Termites?
Self=Deception : India’s China Policies Origins, Premises, Lessons - Lessons the Chinese Taught Pandit Nehru but Which We Refuse to Learn ]] (ISBN 9789351160939)
Co-author:with Sita Ram Goel, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi and Ram Swarup, Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them Vol. I, (A Preliminary Survey) (1990, ISBN 81-85990-49-2)
with Sita Ram Goel, Koenraad Elst, Ram Swarup, Freedom of expression — Secular Theocracy Versus Liberal Democracy, Voice of India (1998).
with Arun Jaitley, Swapan Dasgupta, Rama J Jois, Harsh Narain-The Ayodhya Reference:Suprema Court judgment and commentaries, Voice of India(1994)
In 2000, Shourie pledged the entire amount (Rs. 120 million) of discretionary spending available to him under Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) to setting up of Bio-Sciences & Bio-engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. In 2005, he again pledged Rs. 110 million for developing a separate building for Environmental Sciences and Environmental Engineering at the institute.
Shourie is married to Anita, and they have a son. His sister is the journalist Nalini Singh.