He was born in London into a family Protestant Presbyterian and had very strict religious upbringing. He studied for a year at the Dissenter's College, Stoke Newington, then he engaged in trade, often with projects ended in financial disaster. In 1701 he published the satire in verse The true born Englishman (English authentic), in which legitimized the ascent to the English throne of King William of Orange Netherlands, supporting the composite origin of the same English people. In 1702 he published The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (The method more fast to do away with dissidents), a pamphlet in which the apparent support for harsh measures against dissidents disguised in fact an attack on the attitude of religious intolerance Tory Anglicans. Because of this work Defoe was accused of sedition and imprisoned. Freed thanks to the influential politician Robert Harley, a moderate Tory, began his career as a journalist and secret agent for the government. He founded the journal "The Review" (The show, from 1704 to 1713), in which he dealt with topics such as trade, money, taxes, freedom of the press. From the beginning, however, he realized that, to attract the attention of a wide audience, it was necessary to treat lighter topics, so he created a section in the newspaper in which the observation of facts, news and contemporary books became his inspired to write several essays on the customs of the time, becoming the most important predecessor of journalism of Addison and Steele. In 1706, with the realistic account of a supernatural event, A true relation of the apparition of one Mrs. Veal (True relation of the appearance of a Mrs. Veal), Defoe revealed for the first time his talent as a storyteller. At the age of almost sixty years, he decided to devote himself to the novel and wrote the series of his masterpieces. During the last years of his life he returned to deal with social problems, political and economic works such as The Complete Inglese tradesman (The perfect English merchant, 1726-27) and A tour through the whole island of Great Britain (A trip to the ' island of Britain, 1724-27), religion and occultism. He died while he was working on a new version of The Complete Inglese gentleman (the perfect English gentleman).
Defoe wrote his first novel, The life and strange surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe (The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe), in 1719. The opera is based in part on a true story: the adventures of Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, who lived completely alone on a desert island for four years. Enriching this with material from books and travel with their inventions, Defoe tells in first person, the story of an English merchant, that to escape a life of mediocrity begins to seek his fortune at sea and shipwrecked on a desert island . In this isolation, however, he strives to rebuild the simplest structures of civilization that has abandoned; His only companions are God and, as a result, the indigenous Friday. Each result obtained by the protagonist is torn by nature and only through hard work and perseverance he can rediscover, in adverse conditions, the value and the dignity of the material civilization. Crusoe is an adventurer, but a merchant guided by prudence and common sense; its purpose is not the glory but the actual result, a perfect representative of the social class of origin and its mentality. Robinson Crusoe, the first novel in English folk with different traits from fabliau and allegorical stories or novels, had suffered a great European success and revealed the author's ability to organize and present the narrative material, to create the illusion of truth through the minute description of the details: he wanted, in fact, that his novels were read as a reportage of real life.
Over the course of six years Defoe wrote his other novels. Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 1719) is the continuation of his masterpiece, but much less for quality and success. Captain Singleton (1720) recounts the adventures of a pirate who becomes a respected wealthy. Another masterpiece is Moll Flanders (1722), in the form of autobiography of a prostitute: writing with strong realism, Defoe proves an excellent knowledge of the social and economic life of the time; Also Moll Flanders, like Robinson, is not yet a fully developed character and seems to live its own experiences as a figure in a social context that as a human being capable of acting and suffering. Minors are Colonel Jack (1722), Lady Roxana (1724) and Captain George Carlton (1728). In those years, Defoe also published in the journal of the plague year (Journal of the Plague), a gripping description of the great plague of 1665.