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Caute was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Wellington College, Wadham College, Oxford and St Antony's College, Oxford. A Henry Fellow at Harvard (1960–61), he was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 1959, but resigned in 1965. From 1966 to 1985 Caute held various academic positions, including Reader at Brunel University, and Visiting Professor at New York University, Columbia University, University of California, Irvine, and Bristol University. He was Literary Editor of the New Statesman 1979-80, and Co-Chairman of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 1982. His novel Comrade Jacob (1961) was adapted as the film Winstanley (1975). Caute's book The Great Fear, a history of the Red Scare in 1940s and 1950s America, was praised by Tribune magazine.  He has been a JP and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
- At Fever Pitch, London: Deutsch, 1959; New York: Pantheon, 1959. - winner of the Author's Club First Novel Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
- Comrade Jacob, London: Deutsch, 1961; New York: Pantheon, 1962.
- Communism and the French Intellectuals 1914-1960, London: Deutsch, 1964; New York: Macmillan, 1964.
- The Left in Europe Since 1789, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.
- The Decline of the West: A Novel, London: Deutsch, 1966; New York: Macmillan, 1966.
- The Essential Writings of Karl Marx, edited, with an introduction, by Caute. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967; New York: Macmillan, 1968.
- Fanon, London: Fontana Modern Masters, 1970; as Frantz Fanon, New York: Viking, 1970.
- The Demonstration: A Play, London: Deutsch, 1970. Performed at the Nottingham Playhouse, 1969, Unity Theatre, 1970, and Junges Theater, Hamburg, 1971
- The Occupation: A Novel, London: Deutsch, 1971; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972.
- The Illusion: An Essay on Politics, Theatre and the Novel, London: Deutsch, 1971; New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
- The Fellow-Travellers: A Postscript to the Enlightenment, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973; New York: Macmillan, 1973; revised edition, as The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.
- Collisions: Essays and Reviews, London: Quartet Books, 1974.
- Cuba, Yes?, London: Secker & Warbung, 1974; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.
- The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower, London: Secker & Warburg, 1978; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.
- The Baby-Sitters, as John Salisbury. London: Secker & Warburg, 1978; New York: Antheneum, 1978; republished as The Hour Before Midnight, New York: Dell, 1980.
- Moscow Gold, as John Salisbury. London: Futura, 1980.
- Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia, London: Allen Lane, 1983; Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1983.
- The K-Factor: A Novel, London: Joseph, 1983.
- The Zimbabwe Tapes, a radio drama, BBC Radio, 1983
- News from Nowhere, London: Hamilton, 1986.
- The Espionage of the Saints: Two Essays on Silence and the State, London: Hamilton, 1986.
- Henry and the Dogs, a radio drama, BBC Radio, 1986
- Sanctions, a radio drama, BBC Radio, 1988
- Sixty-Eight: The Year of the Barricades, London: Hamilton, 1988; as The Year of the Barricades: A Journey through 1968, New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
- Veronica; or, The Two Nations, London: Hamilton, 1989; New York: Viking Penguin, 1989.
- The Women's Hour, London: Paladin (HarperCollins), 1991.
- Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life, London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
- Dr. Orwell and Mr. Blair: A Novel, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994.
- Animal Fun Park, a radio drama, BBC Radio, 1995
- Fatima's Scarf, London: Totterdown Books, 1998.
- The Dancer Defects, Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Marechera and the Colonel, London: Totterdown Books, 2009.
- Politics and the Novel During the Cold War, New Jersey: Transaction, 2010.
- Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic, London: Yale University Press, 2013.
- Doubles, A novel, London, Totterdown Books, 2016
- Woods, Tim (2001). Who's who of twentieth century novelists. Routledge. ISBN 0-203-18802-0.
- Rodden, John (1999). Lionel Trilling and the critics: opposing selves. ISBN 0-8032-3922-X.
- James Vinson, D. L. Kirkpatrick Contemporary Novelists, St James' Press, 1986, p.179
- "The Great Fear chronicles a sad time in American history, but it's good that Caute has brought his committed and informed mind to bear on it". Jim Burns, "America's frenzied witch-hunting years", Tribune, 13 October 1978.
- "BEST SELLERS: APRIL 10, 1988". The New York Times. 10 April 1988.