Alistair Stuart MacLean was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. MacLean approached authorship as a business and apparently considered himself a businessman rather than a celebrity. Many facts about his early life are not generally known. He was educated at Glasgow University. During World War II, he served in the Royal Navy, an experience that he later put to good literary use. Many of the adventures in his novels occur at sea, and several of his best-known works are set during World War II.
After the war, MacLean taught English and history at Rutherglen, a secondary school in Glasgow. In 1954, he entered a literary competition in the Glasgow Herald, and his sea story “The Dileas” won the hundred-pound prize over nine hundred other entries. His first novel, H.M.S. Ulysses, appeared in England in 1955 and in the United States the next year. Thereafter, despite his initial doubts that he could succeed as a writer, he produced a book virtually every year until his death. In 1961, he adopted the pseudonym Ian Stuart while continuing to write steadily under his own name. He became an accomplished scenarist—in fact, he first wrote several of his novels in the form of screenplays.
Of MacLean’s first marriage, like much of his private life, little is known except that it produced three sons. His second marriage, to Mary Marcelle Georgeus, a film production company executive, took place in 1972. He lived in England for a time, operating a small chain of hotels until he lost his taste for that business. He eventually took up residence near Geneva, Switzerland. His interest in science and astronomy, especially science as applied to technology, is apparent in his fiction. While visiting a friend in Munich, West Germany, he suffered a stroke. Three weeks later, on February 2, 1987, he died of heart failure in a Munich hospital.