Bernhard Schlink was born July 6, 1944 in Bethel, Germany, the youngest of four children. He studied law at West Berlins Free University, graduating in 1968. He served as a judge at the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia beginning in 1988, and became a professor for public law and the philosophy of law at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany in 1992, a position he held until his retirement in 2006.
Schlink began his career as a writer with several detective novels, one of which one the Glauser Prize in 1989. The Reader was published in 1995 and became a bestseller in both Germany and the United States. It was the first German book to reach the number one position in the New York Times bestseller list. In 1997 it won the Hans Fallada Prize, an Italian literary award, and the Prix Laure Bataillon for works translated into French. In 1999 it was awarded the "WELT - Literaturpreis" of the newspaper Die Welt.
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