He has written several non-fiction books, including a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru titled Nehru: The Making of India, a book on Kashmir titled Kashmir Behind the Vale, Riot After Riot and India: The Siege Within. He also authored The Shade of Swords, a history of jihad. Akbar has also authored fiction, such as Blood Brothers-A Family Saga (Fratelli Di Sangue, Italian translated version). Have Pen, Will Travel: Observations of a Globetrotter is a travelogue authored by him. His book 'Byline' consists of write-ups of bylines picked from his writings. His book Tinderbox: The past and future of Pakistan, in January 2012 discusses the themes of identity crisis and class struggles in Pakistan.
He was born on 11 January 1951 in a Bihari family. As per semi-fictional book written by Akbar, Blood Brothers - A Family Saga. Akbar's paternal grandfather was a Hindu named Prayag who lived in the small jute-mill town of Telinipara near Chandannagar, just north of Kolkata, in the Hooghly District of West Bengal. Prayag was raised by a Muslim couple after being orphaned in communal riots. Later he converted to Islam and took the name Rehmatullah.
Akbar attended Calcutta Boys' School and later Presidency College, Calcutta (1967–70), where he attained a BA (Hons) in English.
Akbar joined The Times of India in 1971 as a trainee. Subsequently, he moved to The Illustrated Weekly of India, then India's largest-selling magazine, working as a sub-editor as well as distinguishing himself as a feature writer capable of contributing a prolific number of stories. He would remain with the weekly until 1973 when he was named editor of the news fortnightly, Onlooker, owned by The Free Press Journal Group in Mumbai. In 1976, he moved to Calcutta to join the Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) Group as editor of Sunday, a political weekly. Within just three years of its launch, the investigative reporting pioneered by the magazine established its national circulation and number one position. The magazine took an uncompromising stand against the Emergency and fought press censorship and dictatorship. Sunday not only established major trends in journalism but also spawned a new generation of journalists in the country.
In 1982, after the success of The Sunday, Akbar launched what is considered by some to be India's first modern newspaper. He conceived, designed and edited the daily newspaper, The Telegraph, which had a major impact on newspaper journalism in India.
In 1989, he took a brief detour into politics with his election to the Indian Parliament in November 1989 from Kishanganj in Bihar on a Congress(I) ticket. He lost the seat in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. He served as late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's official spokesman.
In 1991, Akbar joined the Government as an adviser in the Ministry of Human Resources, and helped policy planning in key areas of education, the National Literacy Mission and in the protection of heritage. He resigned from the post and quit politics in December 1992, returning to journalism and full-time writing. In 1993, Akbar started a new media company with the aim of creating India's first newspaper that would not only include an international focus within its editorial range, but also be the first Indian daily with an international edition. This newspaper appeared in February 1994. The Asian Age was launched with initial editions in Delhi, Bombay, and London, and by 2008 had grown, in collaboration with the Deccan Chronicle, to eight editions, into a major media presence nationally and internationally. In 2004, the group began publishing The International Herald Tribune in India, and became a publishing partner of The New York Times. Akbar was also the editor-in-chief of The Deccan Chronicle, a Hyderabad-based news daily.
In 2005, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia appointed him as a member of the committee to draft a ten-year charter for Muslim nations on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
In March 2006, Akbar joined the Brookings Institution, Washington, as a Visiting Fellow in the Brookings Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World. During the late 90s, he diluted his stake in the Asian Age, eventually selling of a major part of it to the Reddys, the owners of the Deccan Chronicle Group.
In March 2008, Akbar was removed from The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle due to differences with the owners over editorial policy, as some newspapers have reported it.
Akbar launched the fortnightly political magazine Covert on 13 May 2008 in Delhi with the first issue on stands on 14 May. Simultaneously, the Covert website was launched two days later though it was ultimately discontinued.
Akbar launched a new Sunday newspaper from 31 January 2010, The Sunday Guardian, published from New Delhi and Chandigarh besides an edition called India on Sunday from London. He remained the Editor-in-Chief and then Editorial Director there until May 2014, when he resigned to join politics full-time.
In the meanwhile, in September 2010, he joined the Living Media as Editorial Director of the leading weekly English news magazine India Today and the English news channel Headlines Today. He left in October 2012.
Akbar was a Congress MP from Kishanganj in Bihar between 1989 and 1991, he was also a Congress party spokesperson in 1989.
M J Akbar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in March 2014 as the national spokesperson of the party.
He was elected to Rajya Shabha from Jharkhand in July 2015.
He took oath as Minister of State for External Affairs in Rashtrapati Bhavan on 5 July 2016.
Akbar is married to Mallika Joseph, his contemporary at The Times of India. They have two children, Prayaag an alumnus of Dartmouth College and Mukulika a Law graduate from Jesus College, Cambridge.Nehru: the Making of India (1990)
Riot After Riot (1991)
Kashmir: Behind the Vale (1991)
India: The Siege within - Challenges to a Nation's Unity (1996)
The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity (2003)
Blood Brothers - A Family Saga (2006)
Have Pen, Will Travel (2010)
Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (2012)
A Mirror to Power: The Politics of a Fractured Decade, HarperCollins India, 2015.