He served several senior positions in the government of the United Kingdom: as technical director of the Ministry of Labour from 1940 to 1944; as civil service commissioner from 1945 to 1960; and as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Technology from 1964 to 1966. He was knighted in 1957 and made a life peer, as Baron Snow, of the City of Leicester in 1964.
Snow married the novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson in 1950. They had one son. Friends included the mathematician G. H. Hardy, for whom he would write a brief biographical foreword in A Mathematician's Apology, the physicist P.M.S. Blackett, the X-ray crystallographer J. D. Bernal and the cultural historian Jacques Barzun. For the academic year 1961 to 1962, Lord and Lady Snow served as Fellows on the faculty at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University.
However, he is much better known as the author of a sequence of novels entitled Strangers and Brothers depicting intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era. The Masters is the best known novel of the sequence and deals with the internal politics of a Cambridge college as it prepared to elect a new master. It has all the appeal of being an insider’s view and it reveals how concerns other than the strictly academic influence the decisions of supposedly objective scholars. The Masters and The New Men were jointly awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1954. Corridors of Power added a phrase to the language of the day.
In The Realists, an examination of the work of eight novelists — Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Benito Pérez Galdós, Henry James and Marcel Proust — Snow makes a robust defence of the realistic novel.
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the law of entropy. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.
The satirists Flanders and Swann utilised the first part of this quotation as the basis for their short monologue and song "First and Second Law".