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Ian Fleming's Inspiration (Paperback)

The Truth Behind the Books

P&S History > British History P&S History > Social History

By Edward Abel Smith
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526791986
Published: 29th September 2021
Last Released: 6th October 2022


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In the press!

As featured in the Daily Express, July 2020.

As featured in the Daily Express, May 2020: 'James Bond author's secret mission to "save Britain from losing WW2" exposed'

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James Bond is possibly the most well known fictional character in history. What most people don’t know is that almost all of the characters, plots and gadgets come from the real life experiences of Bond’s creator - Commander Ian Fleming.

In this book, we go through the plots of Fleming’s novels explaining the real life experiences that inspired them. The reader is taken on a journey through Fleming’s direct involvement in World War II intelligence and how this translated through his typewriter into James Bond’s world, as well as the many other factors of Fleming’s life which were also taken as inspiration. Most notably, the friends who Fleming kept, among whom were Noel Coward and Randolph Churchill and the influential people he would mingle with, British Prime Ministers and American Presidents.

Bond is known for his exotic travel, most notably to the island of Jamaica, where Fleming spent much of his life. The desk in his Caribbean house, Goldeneye, was also where his life experiences would be put onto paper in the guise of James Bond. As the island was highly influential for Fleming, it features heavily in this book, offering an element of escapism to the reader, with tales of a clear blue sea, Caribbean climate and island socialising.

Ian Fleming might have died prematurely aged 56, but so much of him lives on to this day through the most famous spy in the world, James Bond.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"Ian Fleming's Inspiration - The Truth Behind the Books" is an outstanding read that delves deep into the inspiration behind one of the greatest spy novelists of all time. The book is written by Ian Fleming's nephew, Edward Abel Smith, who provides an insider's perspective into the author's life and works.

The book is well-researched and written, and it provides readers with a fascinating glimpse into Fleming's world. Smith does an excellent job of exploring the real-life inspirations behind some of Fleming's most iconic characters, such as James Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He also sheds light on the author's own experiences in the world of espionage, which adds an extra layer of intrigue to the story.

What I appreciated most about this book was how it didn't just focus on Fleming's writing, but also on his personal life and relationships. Smith provides readers with a candid look at his uncle's personal struggles, including his battle with depression and his tumultuous relationships with women.

Overall, "Ian Fleming's Inspiration - The Truth Behind the Books" is an engaging and enlightening read that will appeal to both fans of Fleming's work and those interested in the world of espionage. I highly recommend this book and give it a 5/5 rating.

NetGalley, Stephen West

As it says on the cover, this book covers the real-life stories from Ian Fleming’s life, from WW2 to living in Jamaica, that inspired the James Bond books. It is organised by Bond novel and nicely weaves in a few yarns that, sometimes tangentially, relate to each one. Thus, it half reads as a biography of Ian Fleming but without the boring bits. And indeed, he lived a short yet fascinating life, managing commandos in WW2 while working with SOE and later mixing with celebrities such as Noel Coward in Jamaica where his house, Goldeneye, was built.

Like his fictional creation Ian was a drinker and a womaniser; a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur, as Judi Dench’s M calls Bond in the film Goldeneye. Unlike James, Ian was no licensed-to-kill assassin and one gets the impression that Bond is Ian’s ideal version of himself and perhaps his older brother. So, a fascinating if unlikable character and a very insightful read. Highly recommended to all Bond fans and those interested in WW2.

Historical Novels Review

Ian Fleming was dismissed from Eton for a sexual encounter, then from Sandhurst when he caught gonorrhea. When he failed the Foreign Office exam, scoring 20 percent on his English test, his mother arranged employment with the Reuters News Agency for a starting salary of £150 a year. An assignment to Moscow earned him good marks as he polished his writing skills, which served him
well as a naval officer during World War II. His James Bond books and films have generated more than $7 billion to date.
Author Edward Abel Smith became a James Bond
fan watching the films. But only after reading the Bond books, short stories, and Fleming biographies did he appreciate that many of Bond’s eccentricities and penchants were possessed by Fleming himself. These features are
examined in Ian Fleming’s Inspiration.
Each chapter of the book is named after a Bond novel or short story. But while chapter 1 is titled “Casino Royal” after Fleming’s first novel, succeeding chapters are arranged chronologically according to Fleming’s life, not
the publication date of the book whose titles appear as
chapter titles.
Common to many of them, Bond mirrors Fleming’s passion for fast cars, fine food and drink, travel, gambling, and glamorous women. In the telling, Smith also explains the source of names associated with Bond. For example, Goldeneye (the name of his Jamaican home and a wartime operation), M (the head of the British Secret Service), Bond’s codename 007, and Octopussy.
Although not a full biography, Smith does comment on Fleming’s family connections, famous people he encountered, and his secret trip to Moscow for The Times. Of equal interest is how Fleming joined naval intelligence as an officer without prior service, the nature of his wartime postings, and when he first thought of writing a
novel. Smith usually includes a comment on the origins of the novel discussed. For example, From Russia With Love, the book that made SMERSH popular, is linked to Fleming’s wartime experience with Enigma and codebreaking. For James Bond lovers, Ian Fleming’s Inspiration is informative, documented, and a reading pleasure.

Studies in Intelligence Vol. 65, No. 4

As featured in: Behind Bond


I enjoyed reading it and if you want to know more about how James Bond evolved or his creator’s remarkable life style I recommend it.

Read the review here

Australian Naval Institute

"Smith’s incredibly well annotated biography."

Read the review here

Richard Skillman, Contributing Editor From Sweden With Love

As featured in

Daily Express 30/09/21

Review by Iain Ballantyne

... well researched, offering a treasure trove of fascinating details about the reality behind the artfully produced spy fiction of Fleming... essential reading for all Bond enthusiasts.

Warships IFR, March 2021

James Bond book and movie fans are dazzled and entranced by Ian Fleming’s wild imagination, but few of us know all of the truth behind them. Here, Edward Abel Smith presents a book-by-book look, mostly chronological (to Fleming’s life rather than the order in which the books were written), at the career (British secret service during WWII) and inspirations that led to Fleming’s oeuvre. Observes Smith: “ It is astonishing, when one puts the Bond author’s own life up against that of his fictional creation, how much they cross over with each other. Whether it is the central plot of one of the Bond stories, simply the food 007 eats or the feeling he gets when driving down a road, they are all based on real experiences.”

NetGalley, Marcia Welsh

The book is written in a very passionate way, like a thread that binds different real events, from Fleming's life and fictional, referring to Bond and the characters of his saga. Despite some small errors, the result of a typo (Caspar, son of Fleming and his wife Ann dies in 1975, not in 1965) the book is extremely interesting and makes you want to find in the books of Bond (put on the reading list) and in the movies (an accurate second viewing of the classics is needed) every little reference to the extraordinary life of Ian Fleming, a man who lived his life to the full and who continues to live through 007.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire


This was an eye-opening exposition filled with all the facts that I was looking for in regards to one of my favorite fictional characters. This historical content is written in the format of a coexistent hybrid; the biographical content of Fleming revolves around the Bond books themselves. Interestingly enough, the overall “inspiration” behind the novels randomly coincide with actual events that occurred in the author’s life.

Most of Bond’s inspiration, of course, comes from the hellish events surrounding WWII, when Ian worked for the Royal Navy. Most of the chapters encompass this particular narrative-“Moonraker”, “Diamonds Are Forever”, and “Thunderball” were some of my favorite chapters regarding the subject. Ian also had a lot of personal drama in his life, but found comfort during the post-way years in “Goldeneye”, his estate located on the northern coastline of Jamaica. “Octopussy” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” are a few of the touching chapters humorously describing the sunset of Ian’s life.

NetGalley, Ryan Whitson

Anyone fascinated by spies and spying will be captivated by this look at the life and experiences of the creator of the most famous spy in popular literature - James Bond. Superb.

Books Monthly

This book is well researched and well written and held my attention from beginning to end.

As a lifelong James Bond fan, I particularly enjoyed the way that the author shows the comparisons between Ian Fleming’s own life and his books. It was almost as if the creator of this ‘super spy’ wanted to take his own amazing, decadent, life up a notch.

There are chapters listing each book and the real-life events which shaped each story. In ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, which, to me, was the only Bond Book with a sad ending, we learn that the death of a close lady friend shaped the ending of the book. In Fleming’s own life, Edward Abel Smith shows we have the bases for not only James Bond, but that M and Q were based on war time colleagues.

Fleming was hard drinking, a lover of many women, brave, intelligent, influential and, possibly, narcistic too; just like his character, James Bond. In reality, plenty of wit and charm but probably a not very likeable person, whereas, in his alter ego, Bond, we let the character get away with those flaws.

An excellent book on an amazing person.

For the Love of Books

I’m not particularly a James Bond fan, and certainly enjoy the books more than the films, but this fascinating exploration about Ian Fleming’s life and how it relates to the fictional character he created I found both absorbing and enlightening. If some of Bond’s exploits seem far-fetched then this book shows how real-life can also sometimes seem far-fetched. It’s an insightful biography, demonstrating how Fleming drew on his own experiences for his books and one that will appeal both to the die-hard Bond fan, who will find much to interest them here, as well as to the general reader. A really good read.

NetGalley, Mandy Jenkinson

Ian Fleming’s Inspiration: The Truth Behind The Books is a biography and shows us how much of Fleming’s real life experiences influenced and can be found in his creation of the James Bond stories.

Written in easy-to-read chapters which show the connections between either a novel or short story written by Fleming, Edward Smith has formulated an interesting look at one of Britain’s most famous fictional spies.

I was fascinated by Fleming’s career through journalism, then in a role as assistant to the Head of Naval Intelligence during the war. Here he gained much of his inspiration for the spy elements of his books. After the war, Fleming bought a property in Jamaica, and his love for this country shone through in his books, with several of them featuring Jamaican settings.

I also discovered that Fleming wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Thinking back to the film version of this book, I can now recognise some of Fleming’s themes such as gadgets and inventions, plus the darker side of war and spying, and of course a beautiful leading lady.

With the legacy that is James Bond living on, even after the author’s death, this book would make an ideal gift for Bond fans.

Read the full review here

Rosie Amber

All in all, it's quite a page turner considering that's a non-fiction work – this is partly down to the subject, but it's also a product of the ingenious way the author tells the tale.

Read the full review here

Lost Cousins

Although much of James Bond’s life, and many of his adventures seem implausible, Ian Fleming’s Inspiration reminds us of the life of his creator. What lay behind the world’s most famous spy, was a man of great wit, a man who enjoyed the finer things in life, and a man who lived a life of fascinating experiences.

Read the full review here


As featured in

Daily Express 04/07/20

A very well researched retelling of the life of Ian Fleming, framed using events which inspired his Bond novels.

Like his famous character, Ian Fleming is an interesting and complex character. The first half of this book mostly covers his military career which I found fascinating, Fleming played important parts in the background of many key events during WWII. At times I did find that for a casual reader, these chapters a bit detail heavy at points but this is great for anyone with an interest in the subject.

There’s a shift in tone for the second half of this book, focusing on the relationship between Fleming and his wife as well as the life he built at his Jamaican home, Goldeneye. I am more familiar with this period of Flemings life but enjoyed this take of events.

While not the main focus, it was good to see mention of Flemings flaws. I would have liked to see his beliefs and attitudes further explored, as these certainly inspired the Bond we see on the page, but perhaps that is for another book with this one mainly focusing on the external factors that shaped Flemings life and Bond’s.

NetGalley, Sophie Reid

As featured onJames Bond Australia

James Bond Australia

As a longtime fan of the James Bond movies and books I always like to read about the way they were made and the creative process. Usually, though, the information is repeated ad nauseum and presented in different ways, but still rehashed. In Ian Fleming’s Inspiration: The Truth Behind the Books by Edward Abel Smith the author presents the stories in a manner which gives it a fresh spin, in a presentation package for the fan instead of a straight through biography.

I really liked the way this book was presented, each chapter deals with one Bond book that Fleming wrote, and which parts of it were inspired by the author’s life. Whether it’s the women, the cars, guns, or drinks the author takes the relevant parts of the book and connects them to experiences in Fleming’s life.

Each section starts with a short synopsis of the book, and goes on from there drawing parallels to where Fleming might have gotten his inspiration from. I have to admit that sometimes those parallels were stretched a bit too much, but they were fascinating nonetheless.

Ian Fleming’s charm is lost on me, from everything I read he seems like a real jerk, but man can he write. He was a chain smoker, heavy drinker, serial philanderer with an eye for married women, and doesn’t suffer company very well.

One of the most famous operations that Mr. Fleming was part of, and parts of it made it to the books, was Operation Mincemeat. During this deception operation, a dead body dressed as an officer of a Royal Marines and dropped into the sea with fake documents for the enemy to find.

Much have written about Operation Mincemeat, but the book has many other anecdotes about the parts of Fleming’s life that made it into the books. For example, a section which deals with the book From A View to a Kill (included in the For Your Eyes Only a collection of short stories), in which Bond’s investigation has him finding a hostile enemy base hidden in the rocks, has a basis in one of Fleming’s World War II plans. The plan was called Operation Tracer, a secret mission created to send six British commandos to hide in the Rock of Gibraltar for a year. The plan was devised by Mr. Fleming, who knew for certain he was sending these man on a suicide mission if Gibraltar was ever to be taken over my Axis forces. Mr. Fleming believed that Gibraltar would be a key asset resupplying ships during the war.

This was a fascinating, well written, and a quick read. One does not have to be familiar with all the Fleming Bond library since the author recaps the books, and touches on the relevant parts – but it doesn’t hurt.

NetGalley, Zohar Laor

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As a big Ian Fleming and James Bond fan, I had very high expectations towards this book. And I am very happy to say that this book exceeded these expectations! It is well researched and it is clearly demonstrated in it. The author took great care to preserve Fleming’s life using factual statements. And I loved the format of the book: each chapter is dedicated to one of Fleming’s Bond books. It was a great read! Bond and Fleming fans won’t be disappointed!

NetGalley, Kamila Bouvier

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Unlike common biographical studies, this one begins with the man's life prior to WW2 complete with his foibles and bad habits and then shifts to the chapters headed by the titles of his James Bond series in chronological order (he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). In each chapter the author explains the relevant incidents and people in Fleming's life as related to characters, habits, attitudes, and hijinks in each Bond book. It is a very detailed work and acknowledges all of the other biographies which have been written and all sources of information used to create this fascinating and very readable book.

NetGalley, Jan Tangen

About Edward Abel Smith

Edward Abel Smith published his first book, Active Goodness, in 2017 through Kwill Publishing. The book followed the remarkable and relatively unknown true story of Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick and Nicholas Winton’s quest to save over 7,000 political and Jewish refugees from the advancing Nazis in Prague. The profits from the book go to Young Roots, a refugee charity focused on supporting juvenile people in the United Kingdom.
Born in 1991, Edward lives in London with his wife and their puppy, Vesper.

Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel Moonraker first published

5th April 1955

Fleming’s third James Bond novel Moonraker was first published 5 April 1955. This novel was inspired by Fleming’s invention of an intelligence gathering commando unit known as 30AU, that took part in Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings. 

"Dr. No", 1st James Bond film based on the novel by Ian Fleming and starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, premieres in London

5th October 1962

"Dr. No", 1st James Bond film based on the novel by Ian Fleming and starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, premieres in London

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