James Bond is undoubtedly one of the most famous characters to have ever been created. The escapades of the suave British super-spy have borne 25 highly-popular films fronted by some of the most famous actors in the world, while more than 100 million copies of the James Bond novels have been sold to date.
The brainchild of British author, journalist and former naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming, the character of James Bond is, in Fleming’s words, ‘…a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.’ The literary franchise of novels and short stories were all penned at Fleming’s Jamaican estate ‘Goldeneye’ during leave from his job as Foreign Manager for Kemsley Newspapers, and are set in a contemporary period during Fleming’s lifetime from 1951-64.
Also known by his code name 007, the eponymous British Secret Service agent first came to life in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, of which the 4,728 first edition copies sold out in less than a month.
Here’s a breakdown of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in order, highlighting his novels and short stories.
One of the most famous Bond novels, Fleming wrote Casino Royale in early 1952 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica while waiting to get married. The storyline deals more broadly with themes of Britain’s position in the world, especially with regards to British agent defections to the Soviet Union and the resultant deterioration in relations with the US. Fleming was originally unsure whether the novel was suitable for publication; however, the book was well-reviewed and sold out in less than a month after its UK release in April 1953.
Live and Let Die
Set in London, the US and Jamaica, Fleming wrote Live and Let Die before Casino Royale was published. Much of the information in the book came from Fleming’s own travels in the US and Jamaica. The novel deals with themes of East-West Cold War struggles, race relations and the struggle between good and evil. It was also well-received by critics, with the first run quickly selling out.
The plot of Moonraker was derived from a screenplay by Fleming that was deemed too short for a full novel. Uniquely for a Bond novel, it is set entirely in Britain, which was a point of criticism from readers who desired more exotic locations. Nonetheless, it was well-received. Thematically, it played on several 1950s fears such as nuclear annihilation, Soviet communism and the re-emergence of Nazism.
Diamonds are Forever
The plot of Diamonds are Forever was inspired by a newspaper article about diamond smuggling. Indeed, much of Fleming’s background research formed the basis for a non-fiction book he released in 1957 titled The Diamond Smugglers. Diamonds are Forever deals with themes of marriage, international travel and the ever-changing nature of life. The novel received positive reviews, then was serialised in the Daily Express newspaper.
From Russia, with Love
When Fleming wrote From Russia, with Love, he thought it might be his last Bond novel. It was inspired by his visit to Turkey on behalf of The Sunday Times to report on an Interpol conference, from which he returned to Britain on the Orient Express. The novel examines themes relating to East-West Cold War tensions and the decline of British power and influence in the post-World War Two era. The novel received positive reviews, and sales were helped by a visit from then British Prime Minister Anthony Eden to the Goldeneye estate, and an article in Life magazine which stated that the novel was one of then US President’s John F. Kennedy’s favourite books.
Dr. No actually began as a screenplay for producer Henry Morgenthau III for a proposed television show titled ‘Commander Jamaica’. When that didn’t come to fruition, Fleming adapted the screenplay into a novel, with the eponymous villain inspired by writer Sax Rohmer’s ‘Fu Manchu’ stories. The novel was widely criticised in Britain, being dubbed in the New Statesman as being a novel of ‘Sex, Snobbery and Sadism’. It did more favourably amongst the US market, however.
The character of James Bond was presented as a more complex figure in Goldfinger, as he is depicted as a somewhat ‘St George’ figure who, as a British agent, must solve an American problem. As is common in Fleming’s Bond novels, he used the name of someone he knew as the villain, with the eponymous character named after architect Ernő Goldfinger, who threatened to sue Fleming for the use of his name. Upon release, Goldfinger became an instant bestseller, and was serialised as a daily story and comic strip in the Daily Express.
For Your Eyes Only
A collection of short stories featuring Bond, For Your Eyes Only marked a change for Fleming, who had only published full-length novels until then. The collection contains five stories such as Quantum of Solace, with four of the plots being adaptations of television series that were never filmed. The format was more experimental, and one story was written as a homage to author W. Somerset Maugham, who Fleming greatly admired.
This was the first novelisation of an un-filmed James Bond screenplay, and was a collaboration by five people, of whom only three received credit, a controversy that went to court. The novel introduced the character of Ernst Starvo, leader of crime syndicate SPECTRE, who went on to appear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.
The Spy Who Loved Me
This is the shortest and most sexually explicit of Fleming’s Bond series, and marks a departure from previous Bond novels in that it is told in the first person by a young Canadian woman character called Vivienne Michel, who Fleming credits as co-author in the prologue. Due to reactions by critics and fans, Fleming wasn’t happy with the book and instead attempted to suppress elements of it where he could, such as blocking a paperback edition in the UK. A British paperback version was only published after his death.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Fleming wrote On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Jamaica while Dr. No was being filmed nearby. It was the second in what is known as the ‘Blofeld trilogy’, which starts with Thunderball and concludes with You Only Live Twice. Fleming made a number of revelations about Bond’s character in the book, such as an emotional side; Bond gets married in the book, though his wife is murdered shortly after the wedding, an experience which is thought to mirror Fleming’s grief after his wartime romance with a woman called Muriel Wright ended after she was killed by a bombing raid in 1944. The novel received broadly good reviews in the British and American press.
You Only Live Twice
This was the last Fleming novel published in his lifetime, and is the concluding chapter of the ‘Blofeld Trilogy’. The novel dealt with the emotional change from Bond as a depressed, grieving man, to a vengeful figure, to an amnesiac living as a Japanese fisherman. Fleming also examines the decline of post-World War Two Britain and influence, particularly when compared to the US. While the novel was popular among the public, it received mixed reviews from critics.
The Man with the Golden Gun
The Man with the Golden Gun is the twelfth and final novel in Fleming’s Bond series, and the thirteenth Bond book in total. It was first published in April 1965, eight months after Fleming’s death. The first draft and part of the editing process was completed during Fleming’s life, but much detail, which Fleming normally added in the second draft, was missing. Though the novel was popular, it was politely but poorly reviewed.
Octopussy and The Living Daylights
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (sometimes published as Octopussy) is the final Bond novel written by Fleming. A collection of short stories published posthumously, the book originally contained two stories before more were added in subsequent editions. The two original stories – Octopussy and The Living Daylights – were both adapted for publication in comic strip format in the Daily Express, and all stories eventually published in the collection went on to influence film adaptations of James Bond.