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The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939

(The Life of Graham Greene #1)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  185 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Graham Greene was one of the most guarded and complex literary figures of our time. In the first volume of Norman Sherry’s celebrated biography, Greene’s early life is explored through letters, diaries, and hundreds of interviews, including a breakdown in his early teens, his years at Oxford, and, most particularly, his long and tortuous courtship of his future wife. Sherr ...more
Paperback, 816 pages
Published September 7th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published June 1989)
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4.10  · 
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 ·  185 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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This is not a small undertaking. It’s 3 massive volumes and I admit I still haven’t gotten to the third one. But Greene SO deserves it. You are only at the beginning of Volume I and already there is the kind of social conflict and bullying and depression in a British boys’ prep school that’s worthy of a novel of its own. He plays Russian Roulette a few times while still in his teens. Then he explores Africa! Like legitimately explores it and goes places people have never gone! And becomes a spy ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Jesus Christ, the most incredible biography I've ever read.

I haven't read the other two (three?) volumes, but from what I understand Norman Sherry went slowly insane over the course of writing them and by the third volume he's like, "At 12:06 PM on January 3rd, Graham Greene had a bowel movement."

Ironically, that kind of obsessive attention to detail is what makes the first volume such a fascinating read.
Justin Evans
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Clearly, I'm missing something. This was one of the most tedious books I've ever trawled through; it is not a biography, it is a partially digested mash of quotation from letters, journals, and books, with almost no synthesis or analysis whatsoever. This is clearly a conscious decision on Sherry's part, but it makes the book almost unreadable. Every tiny factoid is backed up with in-text quotation; nothing ever happens, but we are told about literally everything that happens through someone else ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it liked it
these three books are basically pretty good, but at times the biographer started to remind me of the malevolent narrator from Nabokov's Pale Fire, his asides and comments suggested that he would really like to be telling you about his own experiences and what happened to him, Norman Sherry while he wrote these 'bleedin books that cost him 26 odd years of his life....'.

With GG it seems that pretty much his fiction is draw very much from what he really did, but would never actually admit to, like
Heather Mcgrail
Jul 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is dense and full of all the details and intricate psychology from his early years.
I'm reading it slowly, but I'm loving it.
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Have really enjoyed reading the 1st volume of Graham Greene's life - up to and including his work "The Power & the Glory". I've been reading some of the novels along the way, and have found this to add a whole different perspective to the novels. With this first biography I read "The Man Within", "Stamboul Train (Orient Express)", "England Made Me", "A Gun for Sale", "Brighton Rock", and "The Power and the Glory". Other books are discussed, but these were the ones that interested me.

Norman S
Conor Madigan
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Biography, in this circumstance, tilts a little sideways after reading the LeCarre bio by Sisman. We're to understand the two had friendship and some reasons for it being commiserative of the difficulties with certain people, types, rather than true friendship-- spy/authors of different eras and ages. The two shared a view into the worlds of Philbys and like timepieces of bygone eras spying and being spied upon in friendships, affairs, the like. Espionage and its authors. The real oddity in Gree ...more
Lee Battersby
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A dense and exhausting tome covering the first 35 years of Greene's life, from birth to the dawn of WWII. Sherry delves deeply into not only Greene's own memories, but interviews with those who knew him at the time and a mass of collected documentation-- sometimes too deeply, as after fascinating accounts of his schooling and University day, a long and tedious picking apart of love letters with his first wife Vivien when courting threaten to derail the reading experience. Thankfully, the narrati ...more
Gregg Parsons
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As thorough as any biography can be and definitely one for Greene aficionados. Looking forward to reading vol. 2 which covers, for many, the most interesting period of his life.
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An enormous and exhausting literary study of the life and work of a major modern writer of the 20th century. Sherry's 3-volume biography chronicles Greene's life and works and adventures and affairs providing a fascinating account of an extraordinary life. Sherry theorizes that the private Greene can be best understood through his fiction and I tend to agree with this. The main male characters in Green's major novels, like The Heart of the Matter, the End of the Affair and the Quiet American, re ...more
Riley Haas
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Sherry's biography of the first 35 years of Greene's life is exhaustive, that is probably the thing to start with. If you are not a fan of Graham Greene, I cannot emphasize enough that you should not read this book. Though Greene had an incredible life, this biography is not meant for those who just want to know about his travels. Rather, this is for Greene obsessives. Even, a huge fan of Greene - he is probably my favourite English language author - was not thoroughly enough prepared for this. ...more
Nov 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: justread
Exhaustive and sometimes exhausting. I may need a book club just for this trilogy, the first part of which is consuming the second half of 2008 for me. Still, it's everything, everything, everything you ever wanted to know about the man. The slow pace is at times difficult but the revelations about Greene are well worth the investment.

January 11, 2009: I finished Volume I on the last day of 2008, aided by the Panamanian sun and the slightly alarmed encouragement of friends on holiday. NB: I don
Okay, I can't believe that I signed on to read this trilogy. It is taking me forever to wade through the minutia of Graham's first 35 years. It isn't that the book is boring, just filled with so much detail that I find myself flipping to the photographs, the book's notes, and Greene's books themselves with each new reference made by Sherry. ARGH! I may still be reading this first volume when my kids go to college at this rate. Maybe, I should have just read Greene's AUTOBIOGRAPHY and taken his w ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
700+ pages in Volume 1 of 3. Perhaps a tad bit more information than I really needed, wanted, or desired.

Yet this book was perfect for my purposes. I'm reading Greene's The Power and the Glory and Volume 1-- quite tidily--- began with Greene's birth and ended just-post Power. As I said, perfect.

The chapters on Green's childhood provide a perspective on Greene's recurring theme of betrayal. The middle chapters, Greene courting his wife-to-be who won't marry him unless he converts, does much to e
Phil Barker
Long, 700 pages, and only covers up to the start of the war, so there is a lot of detail. Some of it interesting, helping to understand what made Greene tick, but some of it less so, especially the chapters that on his travels in Africa and Mexico which mostly just recount what is in the books he wrote about them.
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is a must-read for anyone who is into Graham Greene. Very well written. Contains copious correspondence from Graham to his future wife, Vivienne, w/r/t his initial years working as a journalist, his pursuit of her, and his conversion to Catholocism (I'm an atheist, and I found it interesting).
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graham-greene
Sherry seems like an ideal biographer: bold and sometimes critical, but nevertheless affectionate and invested. What an incredible life.
Oct 29, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography
1 0f 23 books all for $10
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
The first volume of an extremely comprehensive biography of the complex British author Graham Greene. A fascinating read, if you're a fan, providing great insights into his novels.
May 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
"'I found a cable waiting for me in Mexico City asking me to apologize to that bitch Shirley Temple'"
The Life of Graham Green p. 621

Louis Frillman
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great Volume I biography of one of the 20th century's greatest writers.
Michael Robb
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Zachary Harless
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Helen Mingin
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Other books in the series

The Life of Graham Greene (3 books)
  • The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 2: 1939-1955
  • The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 3: 1955-1991