Edward Said, who died September 25, 2003, was born in Jerusalem (then in the British Mandate of Palestine) on November 1, 1935. His father was a wealthy Protestant Palestinian businessman and an American citizen who had served under General Pershing in World War I, while his mother was born in Nazareth of Christian Lebanese and Palestinian descent.  He referred to himself as a "Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture" His sister was the historian and writer Rosemarie Said Zahlan. According to Saïd's autobiographical memoir, Out of Place, Saïd lived "between worlds" in both Cairo and Jerusalem until the age of 12. In 1947, he attended the Anglican St. George's Academy when he was in Jerusalem, but his extended family became "refugees" in 1948 during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War when his family home in Talbiya was annexed, along with the western part of Jerusalem, by Israel:
I was born in Jerusalem and had spent most of my formative years there and, after 1948, when my entire family became refugees, in Egypt. All my early education had, however, been in élite colonial schools, English public schools designed by the British to bring up a generation of Arabs with natural ties to Britain. The last one I went to before I left the Middle East to go to the United States was Victoria College in Alexandria, a school in effect created to educate those ruling-class Arabs and Levantines who were going to take over after the British left. My contemporaries and classmates included King Hussein of Jordan, several Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi boys who were to become ministers, prime ministers and leading businessmen, as well as such glamorous figures as Michel Shalhoub, head prefect of the school and chief tormentor when I was a relatively junior boy, whom everyone has seen on screen as Omar Sharif.
At the age of 15, Saïd's parents sent him to Mount Hermon School, a private college preparatory school in Massachusetts, where he recalls a "miserable" year feeling "out of place" .
Said earned an A.B. from Princeton University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he won the Bowdoin Prize. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and served as Professor of English and Comparative Literature for several decades. In 1977 Said became the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and subsequently became the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities. In 1992 he attained the rank of University Professor, Columbia's most prestigious academic position. Professor Said also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities. He was fluent in English and French. In 1999, after his earlier election to second vice president and following its succession policy, Said served as president of the Modern Language Association.
In January 2006, anthropologist David Price obtained 147 pages of Said's 238-page FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. The records reveal that Said was under surveillance starting in 1971. Most of his records are marked as related to "IS Middle East" ("IS" = Israel) and significant portions remain "Classified Secrets."