For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, Review

Filed under: Non-fiction Bond,Reviews on Aug 1, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I should have posted this review back in May or even June / July, but I didn’t. Too busy with all the Devil May Care news, and afterwards I was too burnt out to really even want to think about Bond too much. In any case, I might as well just post it up for anyone still on the fence about this book.

There are many non-fiction books that detail the life of Ian Fleming or the life and legacy of his creation James Bond, and admittedly it’s hard for any author to take this subject and forge their own path covering new ground or offering up never before seen images because it’s pretty much already been done. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond by Ben Macintyre is not a biography about Ian Fleming. It’s not a detailed book about James Bond, his exploits and his legacy. It touches on all those things, but this book is an investigation of the lives of Fleming and Bond and how their real and fictional lives intersect.

I think to fairly review this book for this website I have to essentially do it twice from differing perspectives. The first review, to be frank, would say this book doesn’t really cover any new ground. It’s a summation of many books that came before it, notably John Pearson’s The Life of Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis’ The James Bond Dossier, Andrew Lycett’s Ian Fleming, and Henry Chancellor’s James Bond The Man and His World, among others. That’s not really a bad thing, but I don’t believe there’s a whole lot of information within its 224 pages (many of which are reserved for large images and overleafs) that I would deem to be really worthwhile for a die hard James Bond fan that owns or has read the books I listed above. Of course if you are that die hard James Bond fan that has read the above books then you’ll probably read this one too rendering at least half of this review moot.

The second review would say that it does rather well what it set out to do and is greatly suitable for those that have not read those other books and are just looking for more insight on James Bond and his author. This book was published to coincide with the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition on James Bond and for most of those visitors this is an excellent companion.

To analyze Fleming’s inspirations for Bond and his adventures, the book generally follows Fleming’s life starting with information on his birth and his family and moving quickly into his wartime Naval Intelligence years where a good chunk of Fleming’s inspirations probably come from. After Fleming has a few Bond books under his belt, Macintyre changes tactics and begins focusing in on what Bond films and novels are greatly known for: beautiful women, fast cars, amazing gadgets and weaponry before returning and culminating in the grand finale where Fleming’s short life ends and Bond’s eternal life and legacy begins reaching new heights.

Standing out in the book are the images. It doesn’t offer too many new images that we haven’t seen before especially if you’ve read Henry Chancellor’s James Bond The Man and His World, but when it does showcase a picture it does so very big and in high quality. These images are not specific to just Fleming and the Bond novels, it also includes many images from the films, most notably Daniel Craig’s blood-stained shirt from Casino Royale. (Another is of Q’s traveling case erroneously marked as being from A View to a Kill) It is worth noting that on page 204 Macintrye mentions all the official actors to have played Bond and says of Lazenby that he is “laconic, humourless and perhaps closest to Fleming’s Bond.” There are numerous images throughout the book and every actor has a picture or two or more, well every actor except Lazenby. Kind of a shame given the book’s focus.

It’s a solid book. Well-written, stylishly illustrated, and it does exactly what it set out to do, and for probably 90% of all Bond fans out there it’s a satisfying reading experience. Even if you’re not much of a fan, the book does a fine job of introducing you to Fleming and giving you an inside look into his greatest legacy. For those remaining 10% they may see where the book comes up short, but they like myself will likely read it anyway and probably have no regrets because they are that die hard James Bond fan.

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