Born Józef Teodor Nałęcz Konrad Korzeniowski, on December 3, 1857 in Berdichev[?], in what is now the Ukraine, he was a Pole who was brought up in Russian-occupied Poland. His father, an impoverished aristocrat, writer, and militant fighter, was arrested by the occupying regime for his patriotic activities, and was sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia. Shortly after this, his mother died of tuberculosis in exile, then his father, despite his being allowed to return to Cracow.
Subsequently Conrad was brought up by his uncle. Conrad eventually abandoned his education at the age of 17 to become a seaman in the French merchant navy[?]. He lived an adventurous, buccaneering life -- sailing off Marseilles and becoming involved in gunrunning and political conspiracy. In 1878, after attempted suicide, Józef took service on a British ship in order to avoid French military service. He gained his Master Mariner's certificate, learned English before the age of 21, to finally become a naturalized Briton in 1884. He lived in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and later near Canterbury, Kent.
His first novel, Almayer's Folly[?], a story of Malaysia, was written in English and published in 1895. It should be remembered that the lingua franca at that time was French, which was Conrad's second language, thus it is altogether remarkable that Conrad should write so fluently and effectively in his third language.
His literary work bridges the gap between the classical literary tradition of writers such as Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky and the emergent modernist schools of writing. He is now best known for the novella, Heart of Darkness, on which Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now is loosely based.
Several of his works are available for free in digital format from Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.net).