The exhibition at the Imperial War Museum marking the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth runs until 1 March 2009 and is well worth visiting. If you can’t make it, this book serves as a kind of catalogue to it, with double-spread film stills and a large format providing a touch of coffee-table glamour; yet it’s also an informative, readable volume in its own right, and Ben Macintyre’s text deserves to be read from cover to cover. Macintyre is well qualified to write about Bond and his world: his last book was the bestselling Agent Zigzag, about the fast-living Second World War spy Eddie Chapman. He writes lucidly, insightfully, and with a light touch so crucial to any treatment of James Bond.
Much of Fleming’s success as a thriller-writer relied, famously, on his skilful combination of fact and fiction. Macintyre’s approach is to take various aspects of the James Bond diegesis and, chapter by chapter, examine their provenance in Fleming’s own world and experiences. The chapter on ‘Who was James Bond?’, for