Güiraldes was born on his father's ranch near a small rural town of San Antonio de Areco northwest of Buenos Aires. The family traveled frequently to France, and in later years Güiraldes would spend considerable time there and other places in Europe. He also traveled extensively in Russia, Egypt, Japan, and Constantinople. But it was in Paris that Güiraldes finally recognized his love for writing after having considered studying architecture and then law. There he find himself in the company of artists, musicians, and writers who heightened his sense of the universal themes of philosophy and religion.
A short story he published in 1917 about a young man who leaves the Argentine pampas and goes to Paris proved to be a sketch anticipating the more complete Don Segundo Sombra. Indeed, the character in the short story (probably a version of Güiraldes himself) appears near the end of Don Segundo.
Güiraldes wrote the first chapters of Don Segundo when he was living in Paris in 1920 but he didn't complete the book until six years later. At the time, there was a growing wave of immigration from Argentina and a renewed interest in the goucho life. By the time he was writing, the lifestyle had died out and the book seemed to readers to be a lament of the loss. His portrait is hailed as the image of a true goucho, neither romanticized nor unfairly reviled.
The novel was an immediate popular and critical success and is said to have attracted more worldwide attention than any other Argentine work. it remains a masterpiece of all goucho related literature and continues to have a great following. An Argentine film based on the book was released in 1969.