Spufford was born in 1964. He is the son of the late social historian Professor Margaret Spufford (1935–2014) and the late economic historian Professor Peter Spufford (1934–2017). He studied English Literature at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, gaining a BA in 1985.
He was Chief Publisher's Reader from 1987–90 for Chatto & Windus.
Spufford was a Royal Literary Fund fellow at Anglia Ruskin University from 2005 to 2007, and since 2008 has taught at Goldsmiths College in London on the MA in Creative and Life Writing there. In 2018 he was made a professor.
Spufford has specialized in works of non-fiction for most of his career, but published his first unambiguous novel in 2016.
- I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination, 1996 - won literary prizes including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Writers Guild Award for Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and the Somerset Maugham Award in 1997.
- The Child That Books Built, 2002
- Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin, 2003 - nominated for the Aventis Prize
- Red Plenty, 2010 - longlisted for the Orwell Prize, and translated into Dutch, Spanish, Estonian, Polish, German, Russian and Italian, with versions in French and Turkish following. This is a fusion of history and fiction which dramatises the period in the history of the USSR (c.1960) when the possibility of creating greater abundance than capitalism seemed near. It is influenced by science fiction, and uses many of its tools, but is not itself science fiction.
- Unapologetic, 2012, translated into Dutch as Dit is Geen Verdediging, 2013, into Spanish as Impenitente and German as Heilige (Un)Vernunft!, 2014.
- Golden Hill, 2016 - won the Costa Book Award for a first novel, and the Ondaatje Prize.
- True Stories and Other Essays, 2017
He has also edited three anthologies: The Chatto Book of Cabbages and Kings, 1989, about lists used as a literary device, The Chatto Book of the Devil, 1993, and The Antarctic, 2008.
In March of 2019, it was reported that Spufford had written a novel, The Stone Table, set in the universe of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, during the time between The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Spufford distributed self-printed copies to friends. The novel was praised as a "seamless recreation of Lewis’s writing-style", and Spufford hoped to obtain permission from the C. S. Lewis estate to publish it commercially. In the absence of permission, the earliest publication date would be 2034, seventy years after Lewis’s death, when the copyright on the original books expires.
Spufford lives just outside Cambridge and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is a practising Christian and is married to an Anglican priest, the Reverend Dr Jessica Martin, who is a Residentiary Canon of Ely Cathedral. In 2015, he was elected to General Synod as a lay representative of the Diocese of Ely.
- "Department of English & Comparative Literature: Francis Spufford". Goldsmiths College. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
- "The Somerset Maugham Awards: Past Winners". The Society of Authors. Archived from the original on 2016-06-26. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
- "Costa Book of the Year: Sebastian Barry celebrates second win". BBC News. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
- Danuta Kean (8 May 2017). "Francis Spufford wins the Ondaatje prize with Golden Hill". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
- Richard Lea (19 March 2019). "Francis Spufford pens unauthorised Narnia novel". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
- "Cathedral News". Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- "General Synod election results". Retrieved 12 December 2015.