British novelist. He was made a CH in 1966, a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1969, and was appointed to the OM in 1986.
Greene was educated at Berkhamsted School, where his father was headmaster. After Balliol College, Oxford, he joined the staff of The Times (1926–30). A key event of this period was his conversion to Roman Catholicism (1926); the profound moral paradoxes in his adopted faith underlie most of his work, even the apparently light-hearted ‘entertainments’. After the publication of his first novel, The Man Within (1929), Greene concentrated on his writing, apart from a visit to Liberia (1935), described in Journey Without Maps (1936), and a fact-finding tour of Mexico (1938) reporting on religious persecution. During World War II Greene worked for the Foreign Office, part of the time in Sierra Leone (1941–43).
Greene's first success was the ‘entertainment’ Stamboul Train (1932), and Brighton Rock (1938) established him as a major novelist. Other ‘entertainments’ included The Confidential Agent (1939) and The Ministry of Fear (1943). The Lawless Roads (1939) and The Power and the Glory (1940) drew on his Latin American experiences, while The Heart of the Matter (1948) is the tragedy of a colonial police officer in West Africa. A characteristic Greene preoccupation is the motives that make people commit themselves to a cause or ideology, whether religion, patriotism, or sex; this is worked out with brilliant comic effect in Our Man in Havana (1958) and more sombrely in The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), The Comedians (1966), The Honorary Consul (1973), and The Human Factor (1978). His last novel was The Captain and the Enemy (1988). Many of Greene's novels have been filmed, often using his own scripts; The Third Man (1949) was written as a film, directed by Carol Reed.
Greene also wrote short stories and books for children. His plays, beginning with The Living Room (1953), are deeply concerned with religious and ethical problems; of them, his comedy The Complaisant Lover (1959) was perhaps the most successful. His fascination with South America (he was a member of the Panamanian delegation to Washington at the signing of the Canal Treaty in 1977) is reflected in the semibiographical Getting to Know the General (1984).