Remarque, the son of a bookbinder, was born and educated in Osnabrück. After World War I, in which he was twice wounded, he worked at various jobs before becoming a journalist for a sports magazine and writing in his spare time. His first novel, Im Westen nichts Neues (1929; translated as All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929), a brilliantly realistic and unpartisan tale of a common soldier's experiences in the war, was a huge and immediate international success, selling millions of copies in twenty-five languages. After publishing a sequel entitled Der Weg zurück (1931; translated as The Road Back, 1931), Remarque was increasingly attacked by the emerging Fascist Party. His first novel was burned in the bonfire of books in 1933 and his works were banned.
He emigrated to America in 1939, becoming a US citizen in 1947 (he refused an offer to restore his German citizenship after World War II). His later books are well-constructed and realistically observed stories of action in times of crisis, often set in wartime, but none achieved the wide audiences of his first novel. Drei Kameraden (1938) was first published in its English translation, Three Comrades (1937). Flotsam (1941) was followed by his next most successful novel, Arc de Triomphe (1946), set in wartime Paris. His other works include Der Funke Leben (1952; translated as Spark of Life), Zeit zu leben, Zeit zu sterben (1954; translated as A Time to Live and a Time to Die), Der schwarze Obelisk (1956), Schatten in Paradies (1971; translated as Shadows in Paradise, 1972), and a play, Die letzte Station (1974; translated as Full Circle).