Sperber was born on 12 December 1905 in Zabłotów near Kolomea, in the Austrian Galicia (today Zabolotiv, Ukraine). Sperber grew up in the shtetl of Zabłotów in a Hasidic family. He was the son of David Mechel Sperber and the older brother of Milo Sperber born 1911, who was to become an actor in Britain.
In the summer of 1916 the family fled from war to Vienna, where Sperber who, having lost faith, at 13 had refused to do his bar mitzvah, joined the Jewish Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. There he met Alfred Adler, the founder of individual psychology, and became a student and co-worker. Adler broke with him in 1932 because of differences in opinion about the connection of individual psychology and Marxism.
After Hitler had taken power Sperber was taken to jail, but was released after a few weeks on the grounds that he was an Austrian citizen. He emigrated first to Yugoslavia and then in 1934 to Paris where he worked for the Communist International with Willi Münzenberg. In 1938 he left the party because of the Stalinist purges within the party. In his writing he started to deal with totalitarianism and the role of the individual within society (Zur Analyse der Tyrannis).
In 1939 Sperber volunteered for the French Army. After the defeat, he took refuge in Cagnes, in the so-called "zone libre" (free zone) of France, and had to flee with his family to Switzerland in 1942, when the deportation of Jews started in that zone too.
After the end of the war, in 1945, he returned to Paris, and worked as a writer and as a senior editor at the Calmann-Lévy publishing house.
Manès Sperber is the author of a novel trilogy: Like a Tear in the Ocean: A Trilogy, (1949–1955); of an autobiographical trilogy: All our Yesterdays (1974–1997), and numerous essays on philosophy, politics, literature, and psychology. One of his closest friends was the novelist Constantine Fitzgibbon who translated much of his work.
Manès Sperber is the father of Italian historian it:Vladimir Sperber and French anthropologist and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber. His first wife, Miriam Sperber, eventually emigrated to Champaign, Illinois, and became a counselor at the Psychological and Counseling Center there.
His younger brother Milo was an English actor. Milo spent the last years of his life travelling around Britain reading from his brother's works.
- 1967 Remembrance Award from the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations
- 1971 Literature Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts
- 1971 Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class
- 1973 Hanseatic Goethe Prize
- 1973 Honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne, in Paris
- 1974 Literary Prize of the City of Vienna
- 1975 Georg Büchner Prize
- 1977 Franz Nabl Price
- 1977 Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature
- 1979 Prix Européen de l'essai
- 1979 Buber Rosenzweig Medal
- 1983 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
- 1983 Honorary Ring of Vienna
- Charlatan und seine Zeit (1924, ver. 2004)
- Alfred Adler (1926)
- Zur Analyse der Tyrannis (1939)
- Like a Tear in the Ocean: A Trilogy (3 volumes, reprinted by Holmes & Meier 1988)
- Volume 1 - Burned Bramble (1949)
- Volume 2 - The Abyss (1950)
- Volume 3 - Journey Without End (1955)
- The Wind and the Flame (Allan Wingate, 1951) trans. Constantine Fitzgibbon
- Die Achillesferse (1960)
- Zur täglichen Weltgeschichte (1967)
- Alfred Adler oder Das Elend der Psychologie (1970)
- Leben in dieser Zeit (1972)
- Wir und Dostojewski: eine Debatte mit Heinrich Böll u.a. geführt von Manès Sperber (1972)
- All Our Yesterdays (3 volumes)
- Volume 1 - God's Water Carriers (1974)
- Volume 2 - The Unheeded Warning: 1918-1933 (1975)
- Volume 3 - Until My Eyes Are Closed With Shards (1977)
- Individuum und Gemeinschaft (1978)
- Sieben Fragen zur Gewalt (1978)
- Churban oder Die unfaßbare Gewißheit (1979)
- Der freie Mensch (1980)
- The Encyclopœdia of Sexual Knowledge
- Nur eine Brücke zwischen gestern und morgen (1980)
- Die Wirklichkeit in der Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts (1983)
- Ein politisches Leben - Gespräche mit Leonhard Reinisch (1984)
- Geteilte Einsamkeit - Der Autor und seine Leser (1985) (Essay)
- Der schwarze Zaun (1986) (Fragments of a novel)