Charles Neal Ascherson was born in Edinburgh on 5th October, 1932. He was educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge, where he was taught by Eric Hobsbawn. Later Hobsbawn described Ascherson as "perhaps the most brilliant student I ever had. I didn't really teach him much, I just let him get on with it."
Ascherson was awarded a triple-starred first but declined offers to become an academic. Instead he decided to work as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian. This was followed by The Scotsman (1959-1960), The Observer (1960-1990) and the Independent on Sunday (1990-1998).
Books by Ascherson included The King Incorporated: Leopold II and the Congo(1963), The Polish August (1981), The Book of Lech Wałęsa(1981), The Nazi Legacy: Klaus Barbie and the International Fascist Connection (1985), The Struggles for Poland (1987), Games With Shadows (1988), Black Sea (1995) and Stone Voices (2002).