Born in London. He was educated at the City of London School[?] and St. John's College, Oxford. After service in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals[?] he completed his university studies in 1947 and then worked as a lecturer in English at the University of Swansea (1948-61) and in Cambridge (1961-63).
Amis achieved popular success with his first novel Lucky Jim, which is often considered the exemplary novel of the Fifties. The novel won the Somerset Maugham award for fiction and Amis was placed in a group of young writers labeled Angry Young Men.
Amis had long been interested in science fiction. His book New Maps of Hell (1960?) was his interpretation of the better aspects of science fiction. He was very enthusiastic about the dystopian works of Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, and in New Maps, he coined the term "comic inferno" for a type of humorous dystopia, particlarly common in the works of Robert Sheckley. With the Sovietologist Robert Conquest he produced a series of science fiction anthologies Spectrum I-IV, which drew heavily on Astounding Science Fiction from the 1950s for its sources. In his own writings in the science fiction/fantasy genre, he wrote two novels, The Alteration, an alternate history novel set in a 20th century Britain where the Reformation never happened, and a supernatural/horror novel, The Green Man, later adapted as a television production by the BBC
He was married twice, first in 1948 to Hilary. In 1965, he married novelist Elizabeth Howard; they divorced in 1983. He had three children: two sons, including Martin Amis, and a daughter. He was knighted in 1990.