David Daiches was born in Sunderland on 2 September 1912 to a Jewish family of Lithuanian background. At the end of World War I he moved to Edinburgh where his father served as a rabbi. At age eleven Daiches’s father submitted several of the young David’s poems to literary magazines and the publication of one of them attracted much attention. He attended the University of Edinburgh where he won the Elliot prize before he went on to study at Balliol College in Oxford. There he became the Elton exhibitioner.
He began his career by returning to Edinburgh University to serve as an English assistant from 1935 to 1936. He then embarked on a long teaching career at many universities in the United Kingdom the United States and Canada.
Although he had previously published many works Daiches experienced his most prolific writing periods while serving as a professor at Sussex University (1961–1977), during which time he also served as the dean of the School of English Studies (1961–1968) and later while serving as director of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities at Edinburgh University (1980–1986). He published works in the areas of English and Scottish literature literary history and the role of literature in society and culture. Outside of his literary work Daiches also published books about Scottish topography, biographies of important Scottish figures and a book on Scotland’s national drink, whisky.
In 1977 he retired to Edinburgh where he continued to participate actively in the cultural and intellectual life of Scotland until he passed away in Edinburgh on 15 July 2005.