Tuesday 2 April 2013

What James Bond is reading: Profiles in Courage

While the James Bond of the cinema is rarely seen carrying a book (a volume on heraldry in On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a rare example), the literary Bond is, well, more literary. You can find a general discussion of the books on Bond's bookshelf here, but in this post I want to focus on one particular volume – Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy and published in 1956.

Profiles in Courage appears in Ian Fleming's final full-length novel, The Man with the Golden Gun (1965). Bond is in Jamaica on the trail of professional hitman Francisco Scaramanga. In chapter 7, Bond arrives at his hotel, settles into his room, calls room-service, and reads Profiles in Courage as he sips an ice-cold bourbon.

Fleming undoubtedly knew the book well. The chapter to which Bond turns, which is an account of US senator Edmund G Ross, who at the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 saved the president from conviction, is indeed subtitled, 'As I looked into my open grave'. This is chapter 6 out of 11; the book also includes profiles on president John Quincy Adams, 19th-century senators Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Lucius Lamar, and George Norris, and 20th-century senator Robert A Taft.

By referencing Kennedy's book, Fleming returned the compliment that Kennedy paid him when in 1961 he included From Russia, with Love in a list of his top ten books. Fleming's reference was also something of a tribute to Kennedy, who had been assassinated in November 1963. Earlier that year, Fleming had dined with Kennedy, and the two had got on enormously well, especially when Fleming suggested some innovative ways of dealing with Fidel Castro. It is notable that in the reference in his novel, Fleming uses the more familiar 'Jack Kennedy', rather than 'John F Kennedy'.

The edition shown here is a 1961 paperback. We don't know what edition Bond reads, but no doubt Bond would have found a paperback convenient for travelling, being easily packed in his suitcase.


Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

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