Born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, to John and Helen Collins, John Lawrence "Larry" Collins, Jr. (1929-2005) attended Yale University where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1951. He served in the military for the years 1953-1955. In 1956 he began his career as a journalist when he was assigned to Paris, France, as a UPI correspondent. There he was quickly promoted to news editor of the Rome, Italy, bureau in 1957. He finished out his career with UPI acting as Middle East correspondent for the years 1957-1959. He resigned from UPI in 1959 to accept the position of Middle East editor with Newsweek Magazine in New York, New York. He held this position until he was assigned to as Paris as bureau chief in 1961. He held this position unitl 1964, when he resigned to pursue a career as a writer.
His friendship with French journalist Dominique Lapierre began in 1954, when both men were stationed to cover the Supreme Headquarters for the Allied Powers in Europe outside Paris. It would be close to ten years, however, before the two men would discuss writing as a team. Is Paris Burning? (1965), a best seller in both the United States and France, was the fruit of their joint-effort, and the first in a long and successful collaboration. Some would say that the literary world has not seen a more successful writing team before or since. One of the more unique aspects of their collaboration was its bilingual approach. As Collins once observed on their relationship: "We do a very detailed outline before beginning the writing. Then Dominique may take the first section and write it in French. I'll take the second and write it in English. Then we read them to each other. I'll translate his French into English, while he's doing the reverse to my draft. Next we come back to each other and recast the sections in out own languages again." (Publisher's Weekly, AUg. 1, 1980). This process yielded two manuscripts at the end of a project, enabling the authors to publish novel simulatneously in France and the United States. They would write five books together before deciding to pursue independent writing careers [Is Paris Burning? (1965), Or I'll Dress You in Mourning (1968), O Jerusalem (1972), Freedom at Midnight (1975), and The Fifth Horseman (1980)]. All but the last were historical novels.
Described as exceptional storytellers, Collins and Lapierre brought their talents to subjects as diverse as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in O Jerusalem to the threat of a nuclear terrorist attack in The Fifth Horseman. Their novels are recognized for their exhaustive investigative methods. Thoroughly researched and rich in detail, Collins and Lapierre so immersed themselves in their subject, that one reviewer once wrote: "By the time the story is done, we know [the place where the story is set] ... as well or better than our own." [Barnaby Conrad, New York TImes Book Review, June 9, 1968.] In their first work, Is Paris Burning?, Collins and Lapierre reconstruct the events leading up to the liberation of Paris from the Nazi occupation by the Allied forces during World War II. Conducting extensive primary and secondary research, together with scores of interviews with surviving participants, the authors blend the events surrounding the liberation of Paris with fictional scenes to create a gripping story that focuses on the personalities of the Allied and Nazi leaders who played central roles in this dramatic moment in the war. In the second of the Collins-Lapierre collaboration, Or I'll Dress You in Mourning, the focus of the work is the life and career of the Spanish Bullfighter El Cordobes (Manuel Benitez, 1936-). Following Benitez from an impoverished youth spent in a small rural village to his rise as Spain's most acclaimed bullfighter, Collins and Lapierre use El Cordobes's life not only to examine the lore and tradition surrounding the world of bullfighting, but as a vehicle to chronicle the emergence of Spain from its feudal isolationism into the modern world. Collins and Lapierre provide an account of the siege of Jerusalem during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence in their third work, O Jerusalem. Conducting hundreds of interviews in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, the story is told from both the Jewish and Arab perspectives, in efforts to recount the siege through the lives of the men and women who were participants. Described as a gripping novel that captures the immediacy of the events leading up to and through the struggle for Jerusalem, Collins and Lapierre's work reflects the complexities of the issues that were at stake in the war, to relate the story in an unbiased, yet effective manner. Freedom at Midnight, Collins and Lapierre's fourth novel, tells the story of India's struggle for independence from the British Raj and the eventual partition of the country into present day India and Pakistan. Once again employing the successful method of interweaving the events with the lives of the individuals who effected the change, the novel details the negotiations that brought about a free India. Relying heavily on the reflections and experiences of India's last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the story is presented largely from a British perspective. Collins would later publish the Mauntbatten material in two separate volumes entitled Mountbatten and the Partition of India (1982) and Mountbatten and Independent Inida, 16 August 1947 - 18 June 1948 (1984). The last work that Collins and Lapierre collaborated on was The Fifth Horseman, a fictional novel that explores the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States. Proposing a scenario that has Libya's rogue dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, behind a plot to carry out a nuclear attack on New York City, Collins and Lapierre employed their investigative skills as journalists to test out the plausibility of such an act by conducting hundreds of interviews with individuals ranging from foreign policy experts to nuclear scientists to security specialists. The result is a suspense-filled story that takes the reader from the Libyan desert to the Brooklyn waterfront, from the White House to the Kremlin, in a thirty-sx harrowing race against the clock to uncover the plot and stop the attack.
Collins' first solo work was the World War II spy novel Fall From Grace. Returning to France as the setting for his story, Collins spins a story of master deception surrounding the Allied-planned invasion of Normandy. Using a French Resistance fighter and British secret agent as the main characters, the plot of the novel revolves around the efforts of British intelligence to deceive the German into expecting the invasion as Calais instead of Normandy. To make the story authentic, Collins conducted extensive interviews with historians and former British and German intelligence officers, providing the reader with an insider's perspective on how wartime operations were run. The novel was adapted into a television production that was shown under the same title as a two-part min-series on CBS, June 6-7, 1994. Collins' second novel, Maze, shifts from the hot war to the cold, when he writes on the race between the Soviets and the United States to gain control of the last frontier in this chilling psychological thriller on mind control. Shifting between the headquarters for the CIA and KGB, Collins investigates the two agencies' research and use of psychic powers in their intelligence operations to create a story of life-and-death intrigue that involves Soviet-use of Islamic terrorists to carry out their ambitious plans that reach all the way to the office of the President of the United States.
In Black Eagles (1992) Collins uses fictional characters to look at real life events. Collins invesitgates the involvement of U.S. intelligence operations with the Latin American drug trade. The novel takes the reader from the cocaine labs in the Colombian jungle to the private quarters of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to the office of CIA director William Casey, in this thriller of interamerican intrigue and betrayal.
He wrote two more solo novels, Le Jour du Miracle: D-Day Paris and Tomorrow Belongs to Us, and shortly before his death collaborated once more with Lapierre on a work entitled Is New York Burning?
In 1966, Collins married Nadia Hoda Sultan. They had two sons. In 2005, while working at his home in the south of France, Collins died of a sudden cerebral hemorrage.