Donald Bengtsson Hamilton was born to Bengt L. K. Hamilton and Elise (Neovius) Hamilton on March 24, 1916, in Uppsala, Sweden, a small city about fifty miles north of Stockholm. The Hamilton name is common in that country, particularly among the minor nobility. In fact, had his family not moved to the United States when he was eight years old, he could have rightfully claimed the title Count Hamilton.
Hamilton’s family prospered in America, where his physician father joined the medical faculty of Harvard College. Hamilton intended to follow his father’s lead into medicine, but he changed instead to chemistry, receiving a bachelor of science degree in the subject from the University of Chicago in 1938. He married Kathleen Stick in 1941; they had four children: Hugo, Elise, Gordon, and Victoria.
Hamilton spent World War II doing research as a reserve officer in the Naval Engineering Experiment Station at Annapolis, Maryland. He left the navy in 1946 at the rank of lieutenant, deciding to indulge his passions for writing and photography. He quickly graduated from short stories to novels, at the same time writing nonfictional magazine articles on guns, hunting, photography, and boating—a sideline he still maintains. He lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a part of the country that provides the setting for much of his writing.
After nine mystery, espionage, and Western novels, he published Death of a Citizen in 1960. An editor liked the book but offered two recommendations: change the hero’s first name (Hamilton had called him George) and consider making him a series character. Hamilton followed both pieces of advice, and the series continued with twenty-four more Matt Helm books after that first one. Two Helm books, The Retaliators (1976) and The Terrorizers (1977), were nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Awards for best paperback originals. Hamilton continued writing the series until 1993, and it eventually had twice as many titles as Fleming’s Bond series. Hamilton died quietly, in his sleep, on November 20, 2006.