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Ian Fleming: The Complete Man


Ian Fleming: The Complete Man

When reviewing a book like IAN FLEMING: THE COMPLETE MAN, it is difficult to approach it in the same manner one might a standard work of fiction. First of all, it’s about three times larger than most novels, clocking in at just under 900 pages. Then there’s the subject matter to consider. Ian Fleming created one of the most legendary characters of all time: Bond. James Bond.

In fact, James Bond is so woven into the culture of the entire world that his presence and renown have long exceeded the years his creator spent on earth. Many people may not realize that Fleming was only 56 when he passed away. I have opted to focus specifically on the facts about Fleming and his legacy in this review, which hopefully will be eye-opening even to the biggest Bond fans.

"...a book that humanizes Ian Fleming and, more than anything else, makes the connection between his brief and active life and the impact it had on his memorable and timeless fiction."

To begin with, this material was put together by one of the great biographers of our time, Nicholas Shakespeare. Quite honestly, I would read almost anything with that surname attached to it. The book's introduction shows the dichotomy of the enigma that was Ian Fleming. He was described as one of the nicest and most supportive friends and family members ever to a man, while most women could not stand him. Even Sean Connery called him a snob. Shakespeare goes on to show how someone who has had so much impact globally could be seen in such a multifaceted way.

Fleming must have been doing something right. He counted the great playwright Noel Coward among his greatest friends, and Bond was actually referred to as a flesh-and-blood person in the speeches of four US Presidents: JFK, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. There is even a question on the British citizenship exam that refers to Bond. Talk about going beyond the surreal and being completely embedded in a culture!

Fleming’s life was not without tragedy, which he had to face firsthand when his father died at the incredibly youthful age of 35. He and his brothers were forced to grow up quickly, take charge of the family, and help insulate their mother from her grief. Fleming was launched into official adulthood when he attended Eton. It was at this elite school that his imagination and memory began to firmly take shape, and he used names from this period of his life as characters in the Bond series.

Many chapters feature quotes taken from various Bond stories, like this one from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME: “English public schools are supposed to grow people up very quickly and teach them how to behave.” This again shows how Fleming’s mind was indeed a sieve and that nothing was off limits when it came to story fodder for his books. To that end, his time at the Royal Military College and on the battlefield would involve experiences that he could use for Bond, as well as other characters he was to create.

Locations are also a big part of the Bond novels, and Bond's one and only marriage took place in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, which included a honeymoon in one of Fleming’s favorite towns: Kitzbuhel, Austria. Fleming was also married just once, although his way with the opposite sex would sometimes rival that of his famous international playboy creation. He also spent some happy years working as a correspondent with Reuters in what would prove to be another foray into international affairs that would color his future fiction.

The personal and family photos included here are wonderful, and Nicholas Shakespeare has nicely laid them out for readers. Also, the extensive outlining of the complete research Shakespeare used when putting this biography together is a wonder to behold and takes up nearly one-third of the total page count. The end result is a book that humanizes Ian Fleming and, more than anything else, makes the connection between his brief and active life and the impact it had on his memorable and timeless fiction.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 11, 2024

Ian Fleming: The Complete Man
by Nicholas Shakespeare

  • Publication Date: April 9, 2024
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0063012243
  • ISBN-13: 9780063012240