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Top Customer Reviews
The immediate subjects are terrorism and anarchism, and I know of no work that uses them with more brilliance or verisimilitude. Conrad's Preface says that he thought it a high compliment when terrorists and anarchists praised its realism, and he indeed deserved it. He brings this truly underground world vividly to life, depicting everything from speech to customs to dress in believable detail. The vast majority of course want nothing to do with such a world, but the peek is undeniably fascinating. Conrad's psychological insight is particularly intriguing and valuable. All this brings up the important - some would say central - point of how Conrad views these characters. That terrorists and other unsavory personages have been sympathetic to it - particularly the Unabomber's obsession with it - seems to strongly suggest that Conrad leans toward them, but a close reading of the text or mere glance at his Preface shows otherwise. He clearly has nothing but contempt for them; this comes across forcefully in the narrator's ironic mockery and Conrad's noting that Winnie Verloc is the only true anarchist - a terrorist jab if ever one existed. In his view, they were pretentious, portentous, and above all, simply ineffectual with greatly exaggerated self-importance.Read more ›
"The Secret Agent" begins early one morning in 1886. Mr. Verloc, a secret agent for a foreign embassy, who lives in a small apartment with his wife Winnie, her mentally ill brother, Stevie, and their mother. Keeping an eye on a particularly ineffectual anarchist community in London, Verloc pretends to be an anarchist revolutionary himself. As the novel opens, Verloc is called in by his new employer Mr. Vladimir. Vladimir, discontented with the apparent lack of production out of his secret agent, and even further with the lackadaisical English police, wants Verloc to act as an agent provocateur, and arrange for a bomb to spur the English government to crack down on the legal system. As religion and royalty are, according to Vladimir, no longer strong enough emotional ties to the people, an attack must be made upon "Science," and he selects the Greenwich Observatory as the appropriate site for action.
The novel introduces us to a range of wholly unsympathetic characters.Read more ›
But if a modern reader approaches "The Secret Agent" as literature, and as a compelling historical document, he or she will be rewarded. Conrad's psychological acuity makes it vividly clear that the terrorists are human -- something that people in the late 19th century were just as likely to forget as we are today. Conrad's focus on their individual humanity is not intended to excuse them, but rather to show how people become entangled in enterprises of violence. Moreover, I at least was amazed at how much in common terrorism in Conrad's day had with terrorism today. A wonderful, if difficult, exploration of an unusual subject.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I remember a high school classmate reviewing this book in our AP English class, and always carried me a false impression that it was a story of early espionage. Read morePublished 1 month ago by C. D. Patrick
I agree with the reviewer who titled his review, An Unexpected Masterpiece. This book is so good at every level, that the only review I can write is to urge you to read it, if you... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Fountainheart
Really interesting set of characters. A vivid portrayal of how people talk past one another. Each person putting their own spin on what the other is saying.Published 2 months ago by G. E. Watson
I never read a Joseph Conrad book I didn't like. The story is not a great epic but the story telling is. Read one of his books occasionally, it's worth the time.Published 3 months ago by Gene Koon
I feel silly: who am I to review Joseph Conrad. I didn't like the book, for me it was too slow and bogged down in it's own rhetoric. I may try another but not soon.Published 4 months ago by Richard E. Carnesale
The Heart of Darkness migrated to the secret service posited in an era of suppression of anarchist plotting. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sadly wiser
I know that this book is considered by some to be Conrad's finest, and that it is sometimes hailed as the "first spy novel," and that it continues to be assigned reading in... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Scott Wallace
Despite its title and subject matter--terrorism--don't approach this novel expecting the pacing of a contemporary thriller. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Ed Reeves
Had some trouble with convoluted sentences but burst out laughing many times at Conrad's dark and ironic sense of humor as he depicts his bumbling revolutionaries and those who spy... Read morePublished 5 months ago by James Evans