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The Human Factor

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  7,286 ratings  ·  442 reviews
Maurice Castle is a high-level operative in the British secret service during the Cold War. He is deeply in love with his African wife, who escaped apartheid South Africa with the help of his communist friend. Despite his misgivings, Castle decides to act as a double agent, passing information to the Soviets to help his in-laws in South Africa. In order to evade detection, ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 265 pages
Published 1979 by Penguin Books (first published 1978)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  7,286 ratings  ·  442 reviews

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Adam Dalva
More than his superior novels, THE HUMAN FACTOR demonstrates Greene's confounding ability to compel readers to turn pages. Though nothing much was going on and the plot was nearly entirely predictable, I flew through. It shares more with John Le Carre than other Greenes that I've read, save for a few flourishes at the edges (when our lead, Castle, enters a Catholic Church toward the end of the novel it was a bit like McCartney playing the opening of Hey Jude).

What we have: a spycraft novel with
Luís C.
Diving into the occult and ruthless world of secret agents ... sometimes also double agents.

Solitary in the heart of the Organization, the secret agent evolves in troubled water, in an opaque universe, heavy with mistrust and suspicion: the colleague who seems the most harmless and inspires you the most sympathy will not prove he's not the traitor or your worst enemy?

"The Human Factor" is a real novel of atmosphere but, for me, a reading a little laborious due to the bitterness of the subject.
Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 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 advancing the
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Human Factor (1978) – by Graham Greene is set in the British secret service, but…this is certainly no James Bond 007 story; there is no glamour to be found here; this is all about a bleak troubled life of keeping secrets, a life of internalised silence and deception. But – above all else and as the title would suggest, it’s about the Human Factor, the human element and side to an individual living a life, a domestic life in tandem with the secret life of an agent – it’s about the secrecy and ...more
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 ...more
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly this espionage fiction set presumably amid 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
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When writing this novel, Graham Greene wanted to write an espionage story free from the violence, and unreality, of the spy stories of the time. Indeed, this is not a James Bond adventure, but is espionage set very much in an unromantic and realistic world of desk jobs and paperwork – but with a threatening undercurrent of danger. Notably, Greene once worked with Philby and, although he insisted that Castle was not based on him, there is an attempt to explain why someone would be tempted into ...more
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"A man in love walks through the world like an anarchist, carrying a time bomb"

What a read. Talk about bleak. I really loved it though. An extraordinary achievement. Both tense and exciting, but also an exploration of the dark arts of espionage, human psychology, and individual relationships. All the characters are credible, fully fleshed out, and fallible.

The issues Graham Greene raises in 'The Human Factor' (1978) are quite complex and perhaps, ultimately, it's most about individual
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Graham Greene's very last spy novel: A downbeat, talky, yet compelling Cold War story about the quest to track down an undercover double-agent in MI6, the British foreign intelligence service. Set against the backdrop of Soviet and Cuban penetration of Africa during the 1970s, Greene lays out a tale that spotlights the immorality of U.S. and U.K. support for South Africa's apartheid system.

Greene himself stated that he intended this book to be free of the "conventional violence" found in most
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed this; it was subtle and compelling without the spy chases, weapons and car chases.

Castle and Davis work in the African section of MI6 and life is rather pedestrian. And within this rather dead-end office at the "Foreign Office" we see the men's, and other characters, personalities unfold with their worries, doubts, wishes and paranoias coming to the fore in behaviour, thoughts and speech. The Human Factor does have a "love interest", but this is not the James Bond girl, but
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
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Titles always intrigue me. In this case I couldn’t help wondering if The Human Factor might be an ironic reference to ‘disposable’ humanity in the espionage world or the incalculable response of unpredictably emotional humans which (can) cause the best of plans to go awry. Perhaps both?

Published in 1978, The Human Factor was immediately made into a movie the next year. Although I haven’t seen it, I would like to. It is a very hard book to review, to do justice to, without giving away too much.
Allie Larkin
Apr 28, 2010 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
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2016
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
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: english-lit
Greene was a master of literature but I often found his spy novels were good, but not great. This is moreso because I am not a spy novel fan. Having said this, knowing his background in the British Service, he knows what he is doing.
Apr 27, 2007 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...
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
Oct 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another tale where Greene shows us his own pain.


I won't be touching peanuts ever again!
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bob Newman
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Castle is only a pawn

I'm not a fan of spy novels. "Our Man in Havana" and a couple by Le Carré and you're already at the bottom of the list. Still, as a tersely-written thriller read on an interminable airplane flight, THE HUMAN FACTOR stands out. The characters Castle, Davis, Daintry, Percival, Hargreaves, and `Boris' are very well-drawn, their all-too-human motives revealed one by one as are their reactions to events. Sarah, the African wife of double agent Castle, remains something of a stick
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read two other Greene novels besides this one, The End of the Affair and The Captain and the Enemy , and I'm still not entirely sure what I'm going to get when I pick up one of his books, but I know I love his writing. This is one of his later novels in an incredible career that began in the 20s and lasted until the late 80s. I always think of him as a classic author, but it seems odd to include anything written in my lifetime, so I tend to fall back on the arbitrary 'fifty year' rule ...more
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
Dillwynia Peter
Greene started writing this novel some time in the late 1960s, and unfortunately took too long. He was pipped at the post by someone who wrote a much better traitorous espionage novel – namely Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s a shame because this is a great Greeneland novel with all the usual themes splashed around: fidelity, temptation, redemption, betrayal and more.

It is interesting to see that Greene’s experiences in the secret service mirrors those of LeCarre in the grey, grimy
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: group-rttc, favorites
Castle is working in a desk job in the African section of MI6. He is nearing retirement, but previously he was active in the field and had to escape from Africa with Sarah, who is now his wife. The anxiety from those times has never quite left them, but now they live a quiet life in suburbia with their son Sam, and occasionally meet up with Castle's work colleague, Davis. Then a leak is suspected in their section, and both Castle and Davis are investigated, with tragic and far reaching ...more
Pamela Shropshire
This is one of those books that has been on my bookshelf for donkey’s years, but I had never got around to reading it until now.

Maurice Castle has been working for “the firm,” i.e. the British intelligence service, for many years. His first wife was killed in the Blitz. He met Sarah, his current wife, when he was assigned in South Africa during the apartheid era. She is black, and she has a young son. Because of the racial laws in South Africa, they had to escape back to England. All this
Nancy Oakes
Nov 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-fiction, favorite
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
Kimmo Sinivuori
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read for the first time almost 6 years ago and gave 4 stars. It remained in my mind as an excellent work, and after a re-read the rating has been switched to 5. It's Greene with his most compelling manifestation of "Catholic-atheism": he lacks the near-certainty of his earlier works, and into the space which faith has vacated steps the person. If one thing is objectively precious in the universe, it is the person, never the system.

"Heroism began where politics stopped," a character reflects. Is
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
This was an okay novel, but not up to Graham Greene's best, in my humble opinion. Honestly, I never really got fully engaged in the plot or its characters. It has been my experience that early Greene novels are such a deep psychological tour de force, and I never felt that this connected with me like that.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful to read an old world, cold-war era spy novel that deals with human emotions and not James Bond style fantasy action. Greene's novel is beautifully paced, and deeply insightful about the human condition. Warm, compassionate and funny...thoroughly enjoyable read!
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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
“Hate is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates.” 30 likes
“One can't reason away regret-it's a bit like falling in love, falling into regret.” 26 likes
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