Michael Dobbs was born on 14 November 1948 in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, the son of nurseryman Eric and Eileen Dobbs. He was educated at Hertford Grammar School, Cheshunt Grammar School, and Christ Church, Oxford.
After graduating from Oxford in 1971 with a degree in PPE, Dobbs moved to the United States. He attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts and graduated in 1977 with an M.A., M.A.L.D., and Ph.D. in nuclear defence studies. His doctoral thesis was published as China and SALT: Dragon Hunting in a Multinuclear World. In 2007, Dobbs gave the Alumni Salutation at Fletcher.
Dobbs' studies at The Fletcher School were funded by a job as feature writer for the Boston Globe, where he worked as an editorial assistant and political feature writer from 1971 to 1975.
After getting his PhD in 1977, Dobbs returned to England and began working in London for the Conservative Party. From 1977 to 1979, he was an advisor to Margaret Thatcher, who was then leader of the Opposition. From 1979 to 1981, he was a Conservative MP speechwriter. From 1981 to 1986, he served as a Government Special Advisor. From 1986 to 1987, he was the Conservative Party Chief of Staff. In 1984, he survived the Brighton bombing at the Conservative Party Conference. Considered a masterful political operator, he was called "Westminster's baby-faced hit man", by The Guardian in 1987. From 1994 to 1995, he served in the John Major government as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
On 18 December 2010, Dobbs was made a life peer, as Baron Dobbs, of Wylye, in the County of Wiltshire, and was introduced in the House of Lords on 20 December. He sits as a Conservative Peer. Lord Dobbs is also an Executive Board Member of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese. In August 2014, Lord Dobbs was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.
From 1983 to 1986, Dobbs worked at Saatchi & Saatchi as Deputy Advertising Chairman. From 1987 to 1988, he was Director of Worldwide Corporate Communications. From 1988 to 1991, he was Deputy Chairman, working directly under Maurice Saatchi.
From 1991 to 1998, Dobbs was a columnist for The Mail on Sunday newspaper. From 1998 to 2001, he hosted the current affairs programme Despatch Box on BBC Two.
Michael Dobbs' writing career began in 1989 with the publication of House of Cards, the first in what would become a trilogy of political thrillers with Francis Urquhart as the central character; House of Cards was followed by To Play the King in 1992 and The Final Cut in 1994. In 1990 House of Cards was turned into a television miniseries which received 14 BAFTA nominations and two BAFTA wins and was voted the 84th Best British Show in History. Netflix made a US version based upon Dobbs's first novel and its BBC adaptation.
His fourth novel, Winston's War (2004), was shortlisted for the Channel 4 Political Book of the Year Award, and his Harry Jones novels, A Sentimental Traitor and A Ghost at the Door, for the Paddy Power Political Book of the Year awards in 2013 and 2014, respectively. His novels are also published in the United States.
Anthony Howard of The Times said "Dobbs is following in a respectable tradition. Shakespeare, Walter Scott, even Tolstoy, all used historical events as the framework for their writings. And, unlike some of their distinguished works, Dobbs's novel [Winston’s War] is, in fact, astonishingly historically accurate".
Dobbs has been a judge of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and lectures at dozens of literary and fundraising events each year.
He is also an executive producer of the American television series House of Cards.
Dobbs, now a part-time writer, divides his time between London and Wiltshire. He has two sons from his first marriage and two stepsons with his second wife, Rachel.
Dobbs has raised money for his neighbour, who is paralysed as a result of a rugby injury. He walked from his home town in Wylye to his old school Richard Hale. He completed this on the 27 March 2015.
Michael Dobbs is a distant relative of the US non-fiction author with the same name. The two are sometimes confused.