Born in London, Murray spent a year at Edinburgh University in 1827 studying geology and mineralogy. Whilst he was there he explored much of the Scottish landscape and made meticulous notes. The following year he became involved in the family publishing business. From trips to the continent, which he began in 1829, Murray started to build up detailed accounts of the countries he visited. He began publishing these as a series of ‘Handbooks’ in 1836. These proved extremely popular and within fifteen years the range covered nearly the whole continent. The company, under his leadership, also published many notable authors including explorer David Livingstone and naturalist Charles Darwin.