Conrad spent his early childhood in northern Russia, where his father, a Polish poet and patriot, had been exiled. His parents both died of tuberculosis when he was 12. An uncle raised Joseph for the next five years. At age 17, Joseph set out for Marseilles, France, where he joined the merchant marine and sailed to the West Indies. Conrad's many harrowing adventures at sea set the scene for much of his writing.
In 1878, when Conrad was 21, he traveled to England as a deck hand on a British freighter. He learned English and spent 16 years with the British merchant navy. He became a British subject in 1886 and later commanded a Congo River steamboat for four months, which set the stage for his well-known story Heart of Darkness (1902).
Without Joseph Conrad, we wouldn't have the film Apocalypse Now and any number of pop culture quotes, such as:
Kurtz: The horror... the horror... (final lines)
and of course:
Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.