Umberto Eco was born in the city of Alessandria in the Italian region of Piedmont, right in the middle of the Genova, Milan, Turin triangle.
Before he was drafted to fight in 3 wars, his father, Giulio Eco, was an accountant.
Young Umberto and his mother, Giovanna, moved to a small village in the Piedmontese mountainside during the Second World War.
Eco received a Salesian education, and he has made references to the order and its founder in his works and interviews.
His family name is supposedly an acronym of ex caelis oblatus (Latin: a gift from the heavens), which was given to his grandfather (a foundling) by a city official.
His father came from a family of thirteen children, and was very keen fo Umberto to read Law, but instead he entered the University of Turin in order to take up medieval philosophy and literature. Umberto's thesis was on the topic of Thomas Aquinas and this earned him a BA in philosophy in 1954. In that period, Eco abandoned the Roman Catholic Church after a crisis of faith.
Following this, Eco worked as a cultural editor for RAI, Radiotelevisione Italiana, the state broadcasting station, he also became a lecturer at the University of Turin (1956–64).
A group of avant-garde artists—painters, musicians, writers—whom he had befriended at RAI (Gruppo 63) became an important and influential component in Eco's future writing career. This was especially true after the publication of his first book in 1956, Il problema estetico di San Tommaso, which was an extension of his doctoral thesis. This also marked the beginning of his lecturing career at his alma mater.
In September 1962, he married Renate Ramge, a German art teacher with whom he has a son and a daughter. He divides his time between an apartment in Milan and a vacation house near Rimini. He has a 30,000 volume library in the former and a 20,000 volume library in the latter.