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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely done
In a fashion, Mr. Lycett's biography is as detailed as Carlos Baker's biography of Ernest Hemingway. Nearly every movement of Ian Fleming's adulthood is covered. What is revealed is not a pleasant personality. Ian Fleming was a selfish, egocentric fellow who was very much a rake and a cad, especially in the years before World War Two. Scion of a wealthy family, he...
Published on June 20, 2000 by Derek Leaberry

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars overly long, tedious, not very readable
I had already read the John Pearson biography of Ian Fleming (Alias James Bond-The Life Of Ian FLeming.) when I picked up this Andrew Lycett biography. Because blurbs and reviews of this biography praised it for the access Lycett had, I was looking forward to something more about Fleming's internal life and motivations and more details and first-person accounts of the...
Published on August 23, 2008 by cxlxmx


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars overly long, tedious, not very readable, August 23, 2008
This review is from: Ian Fleming (Paperback)
I had already read the John Pearson biography of Ian Fleming (Alias James Bond-The Life Of Ian FLeming.) when I picked up this Andrew Lycett biography. Because blurbs and reviews of this biography praised it for the access Lycett had, I was looking forward to something more about Fleming's internal life and motivations and more details and first-person accounts of the interesting experiences Fleming did have. I was severely disappointed.

In the Acknowledgements section of this book Lycett thanks Pearson "for material he collected for his book The Life of Ian Fleming." The influence of the Pearson material seems prevalent throughout. Pearson seems to have set the standard for the depth of investigation and the extent of informed speculation, and there are even trivialities that are related in such a way that it seems Lycett and Pearson were writing from the same material. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Lycett almost seems to have simply removed the whitewash from Pearson's book.

The whitewash is mostly related to sexual matters. For example, Pearson makes it clear that Fleming seduced many women, but Lycett relates the seduction of the wife of one Fleming's friends, soon after the marriage, in which Fleming was supposed to be best man. Likewise, Pearson surgically removed Blanche Blackwell from Fleming's life and obscured many unsavory facts about Fleming's wife Ann. Lycett puts these matters on display, but there is no probing of them for understanding. Fleming was involved with a number of Jewish women, made literary connections with progressives and communists, and lived by choice in Jamaica, but was pseudo-conservative, staunchly pro-British and pro-empire. How were all these things related in Fleming's psychology?

The parallels between the Pearson and Lycett biographies also extend to the things left out. Take, for example, the occult and homosexuality. Fleming's novel "Live and Let Die" makes his interest in these two topics clear. Pearson mentions in passing a personal connection with (bisexual occultist) Aleister Crowley. The book jacket to the Lycett mentions Fleming's interest in astrology. The Lycett book contains a quote from Fleming's wife Ann referring to his "homosexuality." But neither Pearson or Lycett discusses these connections with any depth. Astrology does not even appear in Lycett's extensive index, despite its appearance on the jacket.

On the flip side, as other Amazon reviewers have noted, Lycett's book suffers from an overabundance of useless detail. There are so many small ones--and Lycett writes so implicatively--that "important" facts are often glossed over. For example, in a web article, I found Lycett referring to Lisl Jokl as Fleming's first love, although that fact is totally lost in the biography. It's hard to understand what Lycett's motivation was in writing. There is no Fleming studies industry that is going to benefit from so much detail, and it is a mistake from a literary perspective. Contrary to what some other reviewers have written, Fleming did not live an interesting life. In fact, much of the book is filled with the tedium of betrayals, double-betrayals, law-suits, failed business ventures and the like. And the interesting parts, such as Fleming's dinner with JFK, are often given surprisingly little attention. Pearson dealt with all the boredom in Fleming's life by writing thematically rather than strictly chronologically, showing how Fleming's life influenced the James Bond novels. That was a much better technique.

Another drawback to Lycett's book is his scant use of quotation. Pearson quotes a paragraph from a doctor's report on Fleming's heart, whereas Lycett deals with the same episode by summarizing in his own words. That technique is fine for short and/or topically-oriented works, but in a "definitive biography" of great length, an author needs to let the cast speak in the their own voices as much as possible. This can get frustrating, as in Lycett's very meager treatment of Operation Golden Eye (of interest to 007 fans, of course): "His letter to [Admiral] Godfrey from the British Embassy on his return to Lisbon underlined his extraordinary autonomy and initiative." What? What did he write to Admiral Godfrey?

My sense is that most people who would be interested in reading this book would end up skimming large portions of it or getting bogged down and not finishing. Although I understand that the desire of 007 fans to ogle isn't justification for exposing people's lives in a biography, one has to ask why a biography of Ian Fleming would have been written were it not for 007. To my mind, although Lycett's book is large and, in some ways, more honest than Pearson's, a definitive biography of Ian Fleming is yet to be written.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely done, June 20, 2000
By 
Derek Leaberry (Bennett Point, MD) - See all my reviews
In a fashion, Mr. Lycett's biography is as detailed as Carlos Baker's biography of Ernest Hemingway. Nearly every movement of Ian Fleming's adulthood is covered. What is revealed is not a pleasant personality. Ian Fleming was a selfish, egocentric fellow who was very much a rake and a cad, especially in the years before World War Two. Scion of a wealthy family, he was a true-to-life example of England's decadent ruling class as much as the Marchmont family was in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.(Interestingly, Fleming's wife, Ann, was friends with Waugh though Waugh did not know Fleming very well when Brideshead was written). Lycett paints an unflattering portrait of this ruling class. The ruling circle which Fleming was part specialized in divorce, arrogance, selfishness, the lapping up of assorted luxuries. They lacked fidelity and self-discipline. It is also noteworthy that in the middle of the Depression, Fleming was so set in society that he seemed to be able to vacation at a whim and not lose his job. Fleming would have died a spoiled cad if not for the discipline of war, in which he served well as an intelligence officer. Egocentric as always, Fleming later claimed to have drawn up the blueprint for the American O.S.S., later known as the C.I.A.. During the war, Fleming fell in love with Jamaica. This love led eventually to Fleming's routine of writing a James Bond novel each winter at his place, Goldeneye, in Jamaica during his ordinarilly 2-3 month winter vacations. The James Bond pop phenomenon was slow to take off and by the time that it did, Ian Fleming's health was in severe decline due to years of a diet of cigarettes, large amounts of alcohol and greasy foods. The Bond novels will never be known as great literature but they are tersely written in fine, spare prose. The plots are usually ridiculous but, after all, they were to be fun books, not serious literature. Sadism is laced within many for Fleming was a sexual sadist. What is most fascinating about the biography is the chummy relationships within the British ruling class where Fleming would have the homosexual Noel Coward as his best man, rent Goldeneye to Prime Minister Eden after the Suez fiasco and Fleming's wife, Ann, would carry on an affair with Labor Party boss Hugh Gaitskill with Fleming's acceptance.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Man Behind 007 & The Bio Behind the Myth, January 17, 2007
By 
The JuRK (Our Vast, Cultural Desert) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ian Fleming (Paperback)
This biography is worth reading for two very good reasons:

The most obvious is to get a look at the man who created one of the greatest iconic figures of the 20th Century. "Bond, James Bond" is usually on every list of popular and enduring characters from the previous century and his simple introduction is normally cited as the most memorable movie line in cinema history. The 007 machine is still very much alive in the 21st Century with all of Fleming's adventures in print and the secret agent still drawing millions at the box office with last year's "Casino Royale."

The second fascinating reason for reading this biography is the author's frank and open access to Fleming's family and friends. A great deal is revealed through their interviews as well as their diaries and letters.

When I read through the reviews for the hardcover edition, I found some complaints about the constant name-dropping throughout the book, but that was their world. Ian's wife Ann seemed to live to socialize and while most of the names probably mean very little to most readers today, some still jump out--from mobsters like Lucky Luciano to real intelligence figures like Allen Dulles, former CIA boss.

This is a sharp, genuine look at Bond's creator after decades of mythmaking about the life of Ian Fleming.

As the quote on the cover says, "This is an exemplary biography, beautifully written, fast-paced and extremely perceptive."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor writing manages to make an interesting life boring, August 30, 2001
By 
This book covers an interesting life story and has great detail, but unfortunately much of that detail has nothing to do with Mr. Fleming's life, instead focusing on the bloodlines of every British person he ever met. A typical sentence would read "While at the party Ian met John Blankenship of Eddileshile, who would later become the Duke of Ipswitch and marry the Dutchess of Flem, whose mother, the Dame of Foppishnich, once had lunch with Sir Henry Handllberg" - and NONE of these people would have had anything to do with the story, the party, or Ian Flemming. It is as if a Flemming biography was inadvertantly been mixed with a "Complete Peerage of the Brittish Isles" and they went ahead and published it anyway. If you must, get the print version, so you can skim over the irrelevant stuff that pops up every other sentence - if you listen to the Audible audio version (like I did) you will find it had to follow and boring to boot.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for the casual Bond or Fleming fan..., April 21, 2011
By 
Jaha (CT United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ian Fleming (Paperback)
Imagine if someone collected 5,000 random facts and anecdotes from your life and then just arranged them chronologically in order without giving any real guidance or focus for what the purpose of the project was. Thats pretty much how this biography of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming reads.

A 450 page biography is normally not a very arduous read but Andrew Lycett's mish-mash style or writing just really made this book quite a chore to finish and offered little for me, a moderate Bond fan. I think my biggest mistake was thinking that Lycett would focus heavily on Bond or at the very least the influences for Bond. Instead, the author seemed to be insulating Fleming from Bond as if to prevent the book from being "all about Bond." I can understand that to some extent but when an author is known for one accomplishment, it is hard to get excited for a 450 page biography when the author of the book is working so hard not to talk about the very entity that makes the figure famous.

The majority of folks who will read this book will be Bond fans and frankly, most could begin reading on page 220 and not miss much at all. The first half of the book is literally a mash up of countless factoids and anecdotes of Fleming's early life with little to no relevance to a theme. In fact, Lycett offers no theme at all for the book until the very last page. This to me was unforgivable. Most biographies I have read, and I have read quite a few, see the author setting a theme or at least directing the reader through the information to maintain a focus or achieve a goal. Instead Lycett seems intent to just relay to you a mountain of monotonous information with no real focus and then let you work out whats important and what is not.

I can see a lot of readers tuning out before Lycett even begins the Bond years. The reason is that he is completely unpredictable with what he is going to present to you. The first half of the book presents maybe about half a dozen very brief blurbs or sentences referencing how something may have influenced a later Bond novel. In many instances, Lycett says nothing leaving you to make the inference that the event or person is important. Therein lies the problem. Lycett relates so many anecdotes with no real form or continuity. He can jump topics with ease often mid-paragraph and worse, he tends to focus heavily on everything except Bond.

Lycett will introduce you to what seems like an endless supply of names of people who met Ian at some point. Most of these people are disposable and even in some odd cases, the people Lycett introduces you too had literally nothing to do with Fleming at all. Lycett will often give you short biographies lasting half a page or more on random figures only to see them disappear from the text entirely thereafter. Further adding conflict is that Lycett never gives you a focus in the narrative so I found myself skimming many chapters hoping something would stand out to me.

Much of Fleming's life was pretty banal which does not help matters much. Lycett likes to tell us all about what tertiary friends of Fleming do in great detail, or spend plenty of time recounting numerous diner parties at Goldeneye, or naked romps in the Jamaican sea, but then he can gloss over the actual writing of Casino Royale in about half a paragraph. Even in the chapters claiming to be about the novel writing years tend to focus on everything except those novels. Little is spoken about what influenced events or characters, instead he focuses on constantly updating you to the status of Fleming's marriage, or other unrelated projects. For instance, in the chapter outlining Fleming's struggles to get his books optioned for films, Lycett spends more time talking about the Boy and the Bridge than any other work. Meanwhile he casually references the legal troubles with McClory without ever truly getting in-depth. Next to nothing is ever mentioned about how Fleming really felt about the films he did see produced, what he thought about casting, etc.

All in all I think the failings of this book were a result of my incorrect expectations. I was looking for an autobiography of Fleming that was Bond heavy and full of info about how this man created his iconic character and how he felt about the films. Instead, what I got was an over-long, goal-less tome of Fleming anecdotes and how his marriage was going while he was writing the novels.

I could only recommend this book to the most hardcore of Fleming fans and to regular Bond fans just give this a pass. I only found about 10-20% of the book interesting/relevant. Perhaps had Lycett placed the last couple paragraphs in the book in the introduction, and then provided better editing throughout the book to help the reader navigate Fleming's snobby life, then maybe this biography could have been saved.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 007's creator revealed, April 8, 1998
By A Customer
This was an excellent book. The research was excellent, and Lycett's ability to portray characters from the early to mid 19th century should not be overlooked. My only gripe was there seemed to be two oft-repeated phrases: "In a letter to Evelyn Waugh, Ann..." and "En route to Jamaica in New York, Ian...." But all things considered, this is an essential read for any 007 fan - casual or the vodka-martini drinking type.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read for the serious Fleming fan, September 15, 2008
By 
The Critic "The critic" (San Jose, California USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ian Fleming (Paperback)
This was a fantastic read. It took me a couple of chapters before I got into the flow of the book (hence why I rated this a 4 star not 5 star rating), but once the biography picked up where the Bond novels begin, I found myself rereading the Bond novels along with the biography. By reading the biography this way, it will enhance your reading pleasure. Lycett's book will unravel the "how and why" Ian wrote what he did as well as suggest who the real people were behind the villains and characters-including 007 and how the number came to being. It also goes into the explanation of how Ian approached the movie industry and why Dr. No ended up being the first of the books to be turned into a cinematic experience. The little details that Lycett added to this book only enhanced the end product. Upon finishing it (and the novels), I felt I knew a great deal about the man who created one of the greatest literary and cinematic fictional characters of modern times.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short of its promise, July 6, 2013
This review is from: Ian Fleming (Paperback)
It's amazing to have a book this long, with a good index, with an author who had access to material others lacked, and still have it be so BLAH.

Lycett's book suffers from a lack of examination. Let's take Fleming's childhood, for example. Lycett wraps that up in about 60 pages or so. Now, this is a 400 page book, and Fleming didn't even live to be 60. Childhood was over a third of the man's entire life, and when it's clear the subject had some serious "issues" as we say these days, it's not gossip, it's appropriate, in a popular biography to examine the origins of anything that is out of the ordinary.

Let's take the S and M as an example. Lycett writes as if he is terrified we'll find out what HE thinks of it. Is he embarrassed to believe we'll think he likes it? Or embarrassed at being a prude and not participating? Look, I don't care either way, but you don't have to reveal your own opinion on S & M to note that Fleming himself was conflicted by it. He participated, found a partner that claimed she couldn't live without it (what she did in Fleming's declining years we don't know) but when he wrote about it, it was generally the bad guys who make it part of what they do. The bad, ugly, coarse and stupid characters are the ones who own sting ray tails. (There is one Bond ally that enslaves his lover, but he doesn't live to the end of the book. And while Fleming himself owned a ray tail, his character is horrified to see another possess one, and warns he could be arrested.)

Lycett's writing also suffers from--and how is this possible, in 400 pages?--not enough information. He tells us that child Fleming tries to get rich from ambergris, but doesn't tell us what it is. He tells us that a relative had a lint factory (a lint factory? Is this a joke?). Yes, I was able to look it up, but no I do not think these bits are common knowlege. Also Lycett translates all the German phrases but not the French ones--I guess he figures we all speak French but not German. We're not you, Andrew, you DO need to write for a common audience.

The author's lack of thinking things through is amusing. Like most Fleming biographers, Lycett maintains that Fleming "ignored" his doctors' advice to cut down on the vices that killed him, not even suggesting that you know, maybe the man had an addiction or two. And in another great example of obliviousness, Lycett tells the story of how Fleming felt forced to marry Ann because she was pregnant, and how Fleming's half-sister hated Ann and tried to talk him out of it. Lycett is astounded that Amarylis talked back to Ian, because he was nearly 20 years older. It doesn't occur to Lycett to point out that maybe Amarylis felt Ian didn't have to marry his pregnant lover when their own mother didn't marry when SHE got pregnant out of wedlock. Talk about missing the point.

As another reviewer pointed out, in the lack of good information, there is plenty, plenty of useless information, like who had lots of money at the time and some tenuous connection to the Fleming family. Although it was nice that Blanche Blackwell was restored to the story.

One thing you do learn from this book--although again, it is not pointed out, you have to figure it out--is that the biggest Mary Sue trait of James Bond isn't the swashbuckling adventure. It's that Ian Fleming's sexual propositions(unlike James Bond's)occasionally got turned down. It's also rather painful to read how Fleming tried to escape Bond with the weird little romance The Spy Who Loved Me. He overreacted to its failure, ordering that it never come out in paperback (it has, since his death). (Personally, I wish it had done well. The non Bond based writing of the short story Quantum of Solace is some of the best I've ever read. If Fleming had been brave enough to abandon Bond after he made a lot of money what wonders would his golden typewriter have produced? We'll never know, and Lycett doesn't treat the abortive flee from Bond as anything other than a mistake.)

If you choose to read this, you'll also need James Bond Dossier (written by Fleming's friend Kingsley Amis), The Man Who Saved Britain, and probably the Pearson biography.

Which is to say, the definitive Ian Fleming bio has yet to be written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delve a bit deeper into the origins of 007, April 6, 1998
By 
myfman1@aol.com (Western Pennsylvania Hill Country) - See all my reviews
This biography of Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett is an essential read for anyone wanting to learn more about the creative forces behind one of popular culture's enduring icons, James Bond. Fleming's childhood, wartime exploits, travels - any element which helped develop 007 - are explained in great detail. The book jacket describes Fleming as "a more interesting" man than his creation, and it's true ten times over. This book is about as readable as a biography can get - due no doubt to Fleming's action-packed, turmoil-filled life. As an added bonus, Lycett offers fascinating bits of information on each of the Bond novels - character name origins, methods of research, etc. Any and every 007 enthusiast should take in this commendable work, obviously researched extensively. If nothing else, "Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond" could pass as a "How NOT to Live to be One Hundred Years Old" how-to guide. Given Fleming's terrible health habits, it's a wonder he lived to see fifty-six years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended biography of a fascinating man, December 14, 1996
By A Customer
Ian Fleming was not a particularly likeable character, but he led a fascinating life. This biography, which has obviously been thoroughly researched in Britain, in the U.S., and in the West Indies, succeeds brilliantly. Part social history, part biography of a fascinating man (whose real life love-life and sexual exploits were much more interesting than James Bond's, this book moves along at a cracking pace. Considering that I was never a particular fan of the Bond movies, I thought this book succeeded at many levels - the sections on wartime intelligence, and the influence that Fleming had both on the establishment of the CIA and, possibly, on JFK's Cuban policy, are terrific reading.

The ideal present for anyone with flair and imagination!
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Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett (Paperback - April 1, 2009)
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