The World of James Bond: The Lives and Times of 007 by Jeremy Black, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, US $40.00, Pp 186, August 2017, ISBN 978-1442276116
James Bond was first invented in the novel Casino Royale in 1953 when Britain was still an imperial power. James Bond has been the killing machine of the British state through decades of transformation. He has been both unchanging, a man of great determination, energy, fortitude, and success and yet obliged to respond to these transformations. In The World of James Bond, Jeremy Black studies these transformations and the contrast as well as the history of the secret agent as adventure hero while the world changed.
Jeremy Black says that the move from novel to film was a key transition for Bond, but not the only one that explains his success. The ability to move from a 1950s British specificity, a Bond who made sense largely in British terms and to British readers to a more generalized political setting has also been crucial to the conceptual, as well as commercial success of Bond, providing global appeal and lasting romances for the character and his adventures. At the same time, Bond’s specific Britishness may be a part of his success, even for foreign readers and film viewers, this being a characteristic he shares with Sherlock Holmes, just as the characterization and role of Hercule Poiret depend on his being a foreigner in Britain.
Bond was a Cold War character when launched and should be seen in those terms. In fact, Jeremy Black argues, he was a new version of the interwar British “Clubland heroes,” those gentlemen who were brave and decent chaps, such as Sapper’s resolute creation “Bulldog” Drummond. Sapper was the pseudonym of Herman C. McNeile (1888-1937), a soldier-turned-novelist who created Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, a patriotic defender, in a series of ten novels, four short stories, four stage plays, and a screen play from 1920 to 1937, of all that was right against a flock of villains, mostly foreign. His friend Gerard Fairlie continued the stories between 19938 and 19954, with others following in the 1960s and one in 1983.Bond was also an exemplar of these heroes and their fictionalized and very real WWII counterparts, for the dourest postwar Cold War.
Black offers a historian’s take on Bond from the perspective of the late 2010s and the issues and questions of the period. Black assesses Bond in terms of the greatly changing world order of the Bond years, a life time that stretches from 1953to the present. This changing world order is one of the relative decline of Britain and the dominance of the United States, including in the cultural sphere, and especially after the collapse of the Communist Bloc in 1989-1991. Although the focus of The World of James Bond is on Ian Fleming novels and Eon films, Black also discusses later, non-Fleming novels and films using Bond. Bond’s role in world culture has become even greater as he has acquired a quasi-hereditary status, with the children and grandchildren of original audiences now watching.
The World of James Bond is a very important study of James Bond, one of the most important literary characters invented during the World War II, and some other lesser known spy characters. Understanding the character of British super spy 007 is like understanding the Cold War. With his impeccable academic credentials, Jeremy Black helps us understand the super spy most of us loved for more than half a century. Many of us still love James Bond. Understanding super spy 007 is also important because we may again slip back into another Cold War era.