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The Human Factor

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  4,412 ratings  ·  234 reviews
Maurice Castle is a high-level operative of the British Secret Service during the Cold War era. Deeply in love with his African wife, Castle decides with misgivings to act as a double agent to help his in-laws in South Africa. Eventually Castle begins passing information to the Soviets. In order to evade detection, he allows his assistent to be wrongly identified as the so ...more
Paperback, 268 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by Penguin Classics (first published January 1st 1978)
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It took me about 80 pages to realize I was right to continue to read this. If I wasn't already familiar with Greene, I probably would've put it down at some point before those 80 pages, thinking this book was not my kind of thing. But it deserves patience, as Greene is setting you up (necessary for the story) and by the time you're set up, you're hooked.

This novel is a mastery of dialogue. I can't remember the last time a book told me so much, and did it so well, with dialogue, not just in advan
mark monday
a novel of spies and of pawns and of the interchangeability of those roles. the tale is deceptively simple and straightforward; the mixed loyalties of the protagonist and the portrait of his relationship with his african wife are sweetly affecting and pleasingly non-dramatic....but all of this is, in a way, a cover for the bleakly mordant commentary on betrayal that lies at the novel's heart. reading Human Factor made me understand how the works of le carre will always be superior to the works o ...more
Review first posted on BookLikes:

‘It’s possible, of course, just possible,’ C said, ‘that the leak came from abroad and that the evidence has been planted here. They would like to disrupt us, damage morale and hurt us with the Americans. The knowledge that there was a leak, if it became public, could be more damaging than the leak itself.’ ‘That’s what I was thinking,’ Percival said. ‘Questions in Parliament. All the old names thrown up – Vassall, the Port
Will Jeffrey
Some years ago I read
the Tenth Man, and I enjoyed it for its irony. The plot was remarkable to me because it diverged from the other British Spy novels I have read. Though I admit I've not read too many. It has been my impression the Brit spy novel was always centered around a mole embedded in a British intelligence agency. I happened to read somewhere about what a great spy novelist Graham Green was, and I decided I would give this one a try. The Human Factor does concern a mole, but I decided
Allie Larkin
I read this for a book club discussion, and was completely blown away. The story deals with MI5 and MI6 intelligence officials during the Cold War, and is more of a realistic look at life in secret intelligence than the action-packed spy books and movies we're used to. It's slow in starting, but really takes off halfway through. There is so much subtly building up as the story moves along. Once I saw where it was going, I really appreciated the pacing of the beginning and the way information was ...more
Love the way Graham Greene talks about human frailties without being preachy or overbearing... His writing tugs at your heart just that wee bit, but leaves you thinking long after you've finished reading...
Lorenzo Berardi
When Graham Greene wrote this book he was 74 years old and had published his first novel 49 years earlier. These are two facts that show how extraordinarily long-lived the literary career of this man has been.

But those who may look for decay or incipient senility in "The Human Factor" will be disappointed.
Among the 6 novels of Mr Greene I read so far, this is among the best ones even considering the usual high-quality standards of this author.

"The Human Factor" is a novel of apparent stillness
Amanda Alexandre
If a chain is as strong as its weakest link, is a novel as strong as its tackiest passages?

This is my clueless (and somewhat arrogant) rant. As I always heard Greene being pictured as respected, I was very disapointed at this novel. More specifically, at its style.

This is what first raised my ears:

A couple discuss in bed. She asks him if he doesn't want a kid of his own, since he is raising Sam, her son with another man.
And he responds something like this:

“(...) I love Sam because he isn't mine.
The Human Factor is a spy story on a very small canvas, more Men from the Ministry than Ian Fleming or John le Carré. There is the same well-meaning little man who does tremendous harm as in The Quiet American, but The Human Factor sees the situation through the eyes of the little man himself. Unlike most popular fiction, where all the right is on one side and all the evil on the other, Graham Greene presents a morally ambiguous situation.

Here is a loving husband and father, a conscientious em
Nancy Oakes
The Human Factor highlights a man, Maurice Castle, who is driven at times to make choices based on love and an often-misplaced sense of moral duty that have some pretty serious consequences for himself and others.

Castle is an agent in MI6, and as the book opens, a leak has been discovered in his division. Suspicion falls on his partner, Davis, who seems to have a lot more money than an agent in his position should -- he bets,he drives a Jag -- and he's also a pretty heavy drinker. Castle is old
This might not be the best of the "spies-are-people-too" type of espionage thriller. But it's very convincing, and a really thought-provoking read. Maurice Castle is a spy, moved back to London from South Africa because he married a black woman and broke their apartheid rules. In London, he finds his spying agency full of questionable ethics, and there are still South Africans who are out to cause him trouble. But through it all he keeps his sense of humanity through the love of his wife, and th ...more
Sam Reaves
One of the cover blurbs called this "probably the best espionage novel ever written". I don't think I buy that; my vote goes to LeCarré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But it's Graham Greene, so you know it will be more than a run-of-the-mill-thriller.
During the Cold War the British intelligence services fell prey to a handful of high-profile traitors who, having been unmasked, went scurrying off to Moscow to live out their lives in dreary exile. The only good thing to come of this was a rich vein
Another wonderful book, superbly crafted, concise & on the surface a spy story (my favorite genre from growing up in the 60's of the Cold War). A more recent novel, set towards the end of the Cold War. The boring routine of a Whitehall office set against the sinister, violent, often pointless machinations of the espionage world. A man is casually murdered becaus of a supposed leak & the man who is the source of the leak, the hero, is then forced to defect & give up the wife & chi ...more
Imagine my delight when I discovered a Graham Greene novel at the library that I hadn't read. "The Human Factor" starts very slowly, and I don't think it's in the top tier of Greene novels ("Our Man in Havana," "The Quiet American," "Brighton Rock," "Orient Express" and one or two others whose names aren't coming to me). Perhaps because it's set mostly in England, it doesn't have quite as compelling an atmosphere as some of the Greene novels set in more exotic locales. Because he was English, ma ...more
”The Human Factor” was my second Greene ever, and made me feel like I should re-read ”The Heart of the Matter”. This book seems to have it all. Initially a slightly boring read, after about 50 pages, it got me so plot-committed I barely put it down all evening (to be fair, I was onboard a train). Stylewise, Greene’s writing is totally enjoyable, if not spectacular, and occasionally manages to include a joke or two. The characters are conflicted, interesting, and of a variety of breeds. In additi ...more
Paul Bartusiak
Graham Greene as an author writes in a very straightforward, easy to read style, while oftentimes addressing very complex themes in his stories- his talent is great, and similar in style, in this reader's opinion, to John Steinbeck or W. Somerset Maugham. The Human Factor was one of several books Greene wrote that was of a more commercial nature (similar to his famous The Third Man). It's a book of espionage and international intrigue, dealing with the British Secret Service, and more particular ...more
I love Greene's subtle touch. Greene is a master at the muddy nature of man. He is able to tell an absolutely non-traditional espionage story that takes one of man's greatest virtues (gratitude) and shows that even this can be used/abused in a world full of bureaucratic vipers who are all comfortable in Weber's "polar night of icy darkness". Greene's plot erodes the romance and violence of the majority of spy novels and replaces it with amoral bureaucratic impulses.

When reading any of Greene's
A more realistic version of working for MI6 in the 1960s than Ian Flemming's James Bond stories, based on Graham Greene's own experiences working for the British foreign intelligence service. As always I love the way Graham Greene writes and the way he tells a story. His characters are especially complex and conflicted. And you can understand clearly why they act as they do and the difficulty of the decisions they have had to make. You also get a very strong sense of the pervasive loneliness tha ...more
Adrián Sánchez
Otro libro que casualmente encontré en un cambalache sin motivo alguno, no sabía que el autor había sido alguien importante, la novela, a pesar de que su trama es sobre espías ingleses me pareció que tenía elementos de película hollywoodense pero sin la tremenda acción que las caracteriza, se nota el prejuicio racista de la época que tal vez el autor quizo tomar en cuenta también la moral y ética que rodea el término "traición" ya que el personaje principal debe elegir entre "traicionar" a su pa ...more
Aug 08, 2007 Jonathan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like spy novels.
A British spy lives his life with his new African wife and her son until his agency suspects a leak in his department. When his partner ends up dead, things get interesting and he is forced to deal with his current agency (MI6) and another governement organization from his past.
Nice simple read with good dialogue. At times it feels like the plot isnt moving as fast as it should, and it ends somewhat abruptly, but the general writing style is enjoyable. A good beach book.
The Human Factor may not be Graham Greene at his prime but it is Graham Greene and as such is better than 99% of books out there. This simple spy story/love story shows how maintaining love and honest relationships is impossible in a world built on lies and subterfuge. It may not be the most original theme but the way it is handled, with sparse economic dialogue and simple expert turns of phrase, captures the characters and their environment to perfection. It also skewers the then still active A ...more
Erik Simon
I have a friend who says that before each novel, he asks himself, "Do I want to read this, or would I rather read another Graham Greene novel." Tough standard. I've read most of Greene, and I haven't encountered a bad one yet. For whatever reason, though, I found this one particularly moving and fascinating. He's such a superb storyteller.
For a book where nothing much happens, it is strangely enthralling. It is the moment of suspension at the end of a spy movie where the hero is just about to get caught, a moment of tension and waiting that is expanded over 300+ pages. No guns. No blood. No special effects. Just your heart in your throat while you wait for the inevitable.
If you're looking for a James Bond or Spooks thriller, this is not your book. However, if you'd like to read a day-to-day account of a Cold War double agent, probably a bit more realistic all around, then this is your book. The concept and plot of the book is a fascinating one; however the execution is lacking.

Maurice Castle is beyond dull, in my opinion, and the rest of the characters aren't that great either. (view spoiler)
Great story but with British enthusiasm and intrigue.
Taught, claustrophobic cold war thriller if at times rather implausible. The pairing Castle up with Muller makes for a great plot device but hard to imagine this happening in a real secret service. And I would guess that a member of MI6 who was married to a black woman in the 1970's would have rendered him immediately suspect. However the only real weak point is character of Sarah. She is never believable as an African Woman. This may not have been a big deal with readers when the book was publi ...more
Even better the second time around.
A member of the British Secret Service lives in the suburbs with his South African wife and her son. They fell in love while working there and he ensured her escape from the apartheid country. A leak in the British office tied to the African division threatens to disrupt the currently tranquil workplace and an abrupt decision by the higher-ups results in the death of an innocent man.

Maurice Castle seems to live a simple life and daydreams of retirement. His daydreams are a far cry from his real
Marvin Goodman
finished Graham Greene's The Human Factor yesterday. It's was written later in his career than anything I've read before, and lacked the satire or black comedy present in some of his earlier "entertainments." The book features an anti-apartheid story line, and is driven by the familiar double-agent-grapples-with-the-virtue-of-what-he's-doing theme.

I don't know much about Greene's biography, which I probably need to investigate in order to understand what was making him tick when he wrote this. I
Greene, Graham. THE HUMAN FACTOR. (1978). *****. This is the story of Maurice Castle. Castle was employed by British Intelligence in South Africa and was on the staff of the station there. He fell in love with a South African black woman and did what he had to do to be with her and her son – the result of an earlier liaison with another man. This meant that he began working with the Russians, feeding them information in exchange for their help in their getting her, Sarah, out of the country and ...more
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Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a “Catholic novelist” rather than as a “novelist who happened to be Ca
More about Graham Greene...
The Quiet American The End of the Affair The Power and the Glory The Heart of the Matter Our Man in Havana

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