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The Human Factor

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  7,948 ratings  ·  519 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 3.91  · 
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 ·  7,948 ratings  ·  519 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
...more
Dave Schaafsma
The Human Factor is not, in my opinion, one of the great Graham Greene novels, but it is a good one, written when he was in his seventies, drawing (like John le Carré) on his experience working for British counter-intelligence, and as with le Carré, part of his explicit attempt to reflect what it was really like to work for the agency. They wanted, in a sense, to counter the public perception put forth by Ian Fleming with his sensational James Bond enterprise.

Greene was "to write a novel of esp
...more
Teresa
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
...more
James
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
Laura Anne
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: men
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marc
I read this a very long time ago, but I still remember I found that - together with The Quiet American - this is one of the best novels Greene ever wrote. What struck me was the balanced and deeply human characterization of the protagonists, as a contrast to the inhumanity of the secret service (yes, again this is a spy novel). In addition, Greene offers a beautiful mixture of all kinds of his favorite themes: conscience, guilt, patriotism, loyalty, humanity and, of course, love. Perhaps because ...more
Jack
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
...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 o ...more
Nigeyb
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 vulnerabilit
...more
Smiley
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
Susan
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 be ...more
Geevee
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
...more
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
...more
booklady
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. I
...more
Luís
I was diving into the occult and ruthless world of secret agents, where sometimes are also double ones.
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, reading a little tricky due to the bitterness of the su
...more
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
David
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.
Paul
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
shubha
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... ...more
Eleanor
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book as bleak as this one is probably not the best choice to read in the midst of a pandemic, in a city in lockdown.

Very well done, but no more Greene for me until life is a bit more cheerful!

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.
BrokenTune
Review first posted on BookLikes:
http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/...

‘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
...more
Bettie
Oct 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another tale where Greene shows us his own pain.

and...

I won't be touching peanuts ever again!
...more
Zoeb
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
...more
Rob
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' rul ...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
...more
John
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: graham-greene
A good cat and mouse espionage novel. The suspense is well crafted with paranoia foremost in the protagonists minds. Maurice escapes SA with Sarah and her son. Marries her and continues to work for a spy organization. The organization discovers their is a leak to the Russians. Enter Dr Percival a trout fishing nut and also a bit of an English Dr Mengele. The leak is In Maurice’s section with Davis the suspect due to his habits.

The bit I did not like was how Buller the bulldog was dealt with. In
...more
Trevor
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best from a master story teller.

Manray9
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brit-lit
This is not among Greene's best work -- I prefer The Heart of the Matter -- but compared to current fiction, it's a masterpiece. This is a spy novel for grown-ups. ...more
Pamela
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 consequen ...more
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4,635 followers
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

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