A Peruvian-born mystic, shaman, and author, he is best known for his work, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. The book details his apprenticeship to a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer. His other works include The Eagle's Gift, The Art of Dreaming, and The Active Side of Infinity.
He moved with his family to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen in 1957. He received both his BA and his PhD from the University of California-Los Angeles.
His eleven books sold over twenty-eight million copies and were published in seventeen different languages.
He married Regina Thal (Florinda Donner-Grau) in Las Vegas in September of 1993. His other female companions and followers included Maryann Simko (Taisha Abelar) and Kathleen Pohlman (Carol Tiggs).
Like Rudolf Virchow, he was interested in public health and anthropology.