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The Human Factor

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  5,599 Ratings  ·  297 Reviews
A leak is traced to a small sub-section of SIS, sparking off the inevitable security checks, tensions and suspicions. The sort of atmosphere where mistakes could be made? For Maurice Castle it is the end of the line anyway and time for him to retire with his African wife, Sarah.

The Human Factor is Greene’s most extensive attempt to incorporate into fiction what he had lear
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published March 19th 1992 by Everyman (first published January 1st 1978)
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The End of the Affair by Graham GreeneThe Quiet American by Graham GreeneThe Power and the Glory by Graham GreeneOur Man in Havana by Graham GreeneBrighton Rock by Graham Greene
Best Graham Greene novels
10th out of 24 books — 158 voters
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
63rd out of 705 books — 842 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 16, 2011 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 06, 2011 mark monday rated it really liked it
Shelves: blood-and-danger
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
Castle is approaching retirement from MI6 where he has been an officer in the Africa section for a number of years following active service in the continent. He is married to a black South African lady who he helped escape from the apartheid regime. He is enjoying his quiet and uneventful life, when him and his assistant, Davis, are interviewed following the discovery of a leak in the service that has been traced back to his department. The investigation concludes that Davis is the source of the ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
Aug 31, 2016 Lorenzo Berardi rated it really liked it
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
Allie Larkin
Apr 28, 2010 Allie Larkin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Credo che per me si tratti della quinta rilettura, tra lingua originale e traduzione: è palese che questo libro di Greene mi piace, che lo prendo e riprendo per la certezza che mi farà passare qualche ora di buona sana lettura, che mi confermerà la sua qualità.


Una spy story ambientata all’interno dei servizi segreti britannici durante la guerra fredda che non potrebbe essere più lontana da James Bond: non si vedono armi, l’azione è ridotta al minimo, la trama, per quant
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
Mar 11, 2008 Will Jeffrey rated it liked it
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
Sep 08, 2015 Rafa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Me gusta. Es posible que sea heretico, pero es Dostoyevski en el s. XX.
May 10, 2007 shubha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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...
Sep 20, 2016 umberto rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage
Surpringly this espionage fiction set presumably amids the Cold War has proved itself as one of Mr Greene's enjoyable works, it was my misunderstanding with insufficient motive and information that kept me stay put for years till a few months ago when I decided to resume reading his "The Confidential Agent" as well as "Our Man in Havana" in which his writing style, tragedy episodes, sense of humor, etc. have since served me as some essential backgrounds before premature decidedly plunging in to ...more
Kimmo Sinivuori
Oct 04, 2015 Kimmo Sinivuori rated it it was amazing
During the darkest days of Apartheid in South Africa, the protagonist, a British intelligence officer called Maurice Castle, received help from an anti-apartheid lawyer and a communist operative to have his black wife and child escape the secret police. Some years later, close to retirement, Castle has settled in England with his family and is working in White Hall analyzing intelligence from Africa. To pay back his debt of honor to the communists, he has been leaking classified information to t ...more
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.
Mar 11, 2010 Yngvild rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
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
Dec 28, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite, spy-fiction
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
Jun 17, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
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
Jul 08, 2014 Sam Reaves rated it liked it
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
Dane Cobain
May 24, 2015 Dane Cobain rated it liked it
The Human Factor is one of Graham Greene’s later novels, first published in 1978 when the author was at the ripe old age of 74. Unfortunately, like most authors, Greene’s golden period occurred when he was younger, and by the time that he got round to writing this it feels as though he was running short of inspiration – there’s very little to set the plot apart from some of his earlier, better work, and it’s more like a second-grade spy novel than like the astonishing work that I’m used to him p ...more
Apr 02, 2015 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
May 14, 2009 Carole rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 01, 2013 Marja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”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
Jun 24, 2013 Paul Bartusiak rated it liked it
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
Jun 24, 2012 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
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
Monika Wolska
Apr 19, 2016 Monika Wolska rated it really liked it
Dobra rzecz. Nie ma tu seksownego Bonda, śmiercionośnych gadżetów i widowiskowych eksplozji, jest za to plejada doskonale nakreślonych osobowości. Wszystko rozbija się o małe decyzje podejmowane każdego dnia, nawet jeśli mowa o szpiegostwie międzynarodowym w tajnych rządowych organizacjach.. Wracając do początku - dobra rzecz.
Mariel Zani Begoña
No le tenía mucha fe al libro.
Es el primer libro sobre espías que leí en mi vida. Trascurre en Inglaterra en los 70, incluye kilombos diplomáticos y también trata sobre el apartheid.
Me sorprendió gratamente, aunque empezó muy lento y ese final me dejó con un poco de sentimientos amargos
Dec 14, 2009 Zhiqing rated it really liked it
I chanced upon this quite by accident, thanks to the reviewer of the mediocre The Increment by David Ignatius. The reviewer compared Ignatius' modern day thriller to both Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and also Greene's The Human Factor. Having read most of Le Carre's novels and none of Greene's, it was a no brainer for me to pick up the Human Factor. I sure was glad to discover this little gem. Greene himself worked for MI-6 during the Cold War and was friends with Kim Philby, so ...more
M.J. Johnson
Nov 07, 2015 M.J. Johnson rated it really liked it
Excellent. An engaging well told story - the characters are human, credible and sad. I was deeply touched by this tale about an operative tucked away in an obscure department in the Secret Service, believed to be concealing 'a mole'. Greene is a beautiful writer and deserves his reputation.
Feb 17, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, 2013
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
Alan Vecchio
Sep 06, 2015 Alan Vecchio rated it it was amazing
Shelves: already-read
I started and have been enjoying The Human Factor until I realized after about 40 pages that I already read it about 20 years ago. I tried to keep going but I remember it too well so I think I will go onto another book.
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Goodreads Librari...: new book cover 2 11 May 09, 2015 02:56AM  
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  • Epitaph for a Spy
  • The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback (Everyman's Library)
  • The Acceptance World (A Dance to the Music of Time, #3)
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  • Naguib Mahfouz: Three Novels of Ancient Egypt
  • The Riddle of the Sands
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce and Selected Stories
  • Collected Stories
  • The Sonnets and Narrative Poems
  • Mexico Set (Bernard Samson, #2)
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  • The Raj Quartet (1): The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion
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...

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“Hate is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates.” 14 likes
“He opened the book at random, or so he believed, but a book is like a sandy path which keeps the indent of footsteps.” 12 likes
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