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The thirty-nine steps by John Buchan

The thirty-nine steps (original 1915; edition 1964)

by John Buchan, Edward Ardizzone (Illustrator)

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Title:The thirty-nine steps
Authors:John Buchan (Author)
Other authors:Edward Ardizzone (Illustrator)
Info:London : Dent, 1964. Hardcover. 145 pages
Collections:LT connections, Read but unowned, Favorites
Tags:20th century, adventure, chase, conspiracy, Edward Ardizzone, England, espionage, fiction, illustrated, juvenilia, London, memory, murder, music hall, mystery, novel, police, public speaking, published 1915, rail, Scotland, series, spy, suspense, thriller, UK author

Work details

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (Author) (1915)

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English (107)  French (1)  All languages (108)
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
Wow! This lovely, compact spy tale could well be the ur-text for all spy tales that have followed! It has everything – international conspiracy, adventure, villains, secret codes, disguise, foot/car/airplane chases, mistaken identity … even the requisite innocent outsider drawn into situation beyond their control. All stripped of unnecessary garnish and delivered at a breathtakingly brisk clip – so brisk that, by the end of the second chapter, our resourceful everyman protagonist, Richard Hanney, is already on the run from seemingly omnipotent villains intent upon killing him before he can reveal what he knows. When it comes to courage and resourcefulness, Jason Bourne has nothing on Hanney, but Ludlum could have learned a thing or two about pacing from John Buchan, the author of this suspenseful tale. Seriously, when was the last time you read a novel that was only 112 pages long? Nor should you be scared off by the novel’s 1915 publication date … believe me, this reads as briskly as a James Patterson and the international conspiracy at the core of the tale is as relevant today as it was back at the turn of the century. A terrific tale, well told … what more could you ask for? ( )
  Dorritt | Jul 31, 2015 |
For Christmas, I ordered an mp3 player (Library of Classics) that was pre-loaded with 100 works of classic literature in an audio format. Each work is in the public domain and is read by amateurs, so the quality of the presentation is hit or miss.

The Thirty Nine Steps is a suspense/mystery novel dealing with intrigue leading up to World War I. The British narrator receives a strange visitor who gives him sensitive information involving a possible assassination attempt on a Balkan dignitary. When the visitor is soon killed, the narrator realizes he is not only in trouble with the authorities (suspected of having murdered the victim), but even more so from the shadowy German organization who must silence him in order to proceed with their plans. The narrator leads the Germans on a merry chase, all the while trying to piece together their ultimate plan.

This is not a bad piece of work, though it is relatively unremarkable. Very average in all respects. ( )
  santhony | Jun 15, 2015 |
This adventure story is probably best known for its various movie adaptations, including Hitchcock's famous version. However, the story is significantly different. The main character has a different background and characterization, and the adventure is very focused on a rugged escapade in nature and matching wits against criminals.

In essence, the story is about young English Riched Hannay who is finding life in England unbearably stifling after his South African residence. This ennui is eradicated when a man living in a different floor in his building asks for help. The American man reveals that he has stumbled upon an intricate plot to destabilize European government and its power structure, starting with an attack against the British government. The man learned about a group of German spies called the Black Stone and he has been working on uncovering and thwarting them. He even faked his own death to throw his enemies off track. He has recently seen a dangerous adversary in town, however, and fears that he may be killed before he finishes his mission. He shows Richard his notebook full of encrypted clues, and asks for the favor of staying in Richard's flat for a few days.

Richard thinks the man is a bit mad, but he allows him to stay. Richard changes his mind days later, though, when he finds the man murdered in his own flat. Instantly, he is convinced that the whole conspiracy is real. What's more, given the strange circumstances, the police are sure to think Richard is the one guilty of murder. Motivated by civic duty and respect for the zeal of the American, Richard decides to take up the cause. Luckily, he finds the American's notebook, clearly the object of the ransacking of his place, yet not found by the enemy. It is no use if he is arrested and held in prison, especially since the specific date when the fatal deal is to be transacted (as relayed to him by the American) is just weeks away, so he decides to make a run for it and bother about clearing his name later.

The next large section of the book involves his adventures by train, foot, and car as he flees to remote regions to escape the notice of the police and tries to decipher the encrypted notebook. He relies on the outdoor skills he learned in South Africa, a clever use of disguises, and the luck of timing and sympathetic strangers to escape detection. Eventually he meets the evil mastermind of the Black Stone group, escapes, and stumbles upon a man highly connected in the British government with ties to the intelligence community. Under this man's protection and influence, Richard makes his way back to London. He is the key person who deciphers the plans and agenda of the spy group, and he figures out where the crucial meeting will take place for the trade off of information.

This is a pure adventure book, and it is quite a different breed from the movie. The story is all about the mystery and the escapades of chase and escape and fighting. Expect explosions and nefarious German spies. The story is easy to read, with its fast pace and focus on action. It is also very focused on the men. Women characters are nonexistent in this story; the relationships are between men, the leaders and the politics surround men, and the story events are those that are traditionally considered to be masculine. The book Is limited. A narrow focus on gender and an adventure story with action but not any introspection or thematic resonance. It reminded me of an old western or a pulp fiction. For those seeking an escapist read with plenty of old-school action, this book is a great choice. If a reader is looking for a story similar to the romantic and suspenseful movie with the same name, she will need to look elsewhere. ( )
1 vote nmhale | Jun 4, 2015 |
This is one of those rare instances where the movie was definitely better than the book. I can't remember much from the Hitchcock version, but PBS Masterpiece broadcast an updated version of The 39 Steps which was engaging, witty, and fun.

The original source material has plenty of movement--it certainly doesn't bother with character--but it strangely lacks much excitement. Though fully the first half of the story involves one long chase, the circumstances are reported so matter-of-factly that they lack any tension.

The 39 Steps, written in 1915, is recognized as the book that launched the whole genre of spy thrillers. As such, it is to be respected for its historical import. But as a "good read" almost a century later, I would search for an alternative among its many descendents. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
A classic, published in 1915, It is 100 years old this year. I've always wanted to read it and it is very quick, an easy one to get off the list of 1001 Books. It is an espionage novel, written by John Buchan during a time when he was sick in bed and had read everything he could get his hands on. It's fast paced, you really never know why or what is really going on but the main character is running from the police and trying to avoid capture by the spies that killed a man in his apartment. He had been bored until this adventure overtook him. ( )
  Kristelh | Apr 6, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (62 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Buchan, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ardizzone, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harvie, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hynynen, AnssiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praetzellis, AdrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Thomas Arthur Nelson
(Lothian and Border Horse)

My Dear Tommy,
You and I have long cherished an affection for that elementary type of tale which Americans call the 'dime novel' and which we know as the 'shocker' - the romance where the incidents defy the possibilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible. During an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those aids to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for myself. This little volume is the result, and I should like to put your name on it in memory of our long friendship, in the days when the wildest fictions are so much less improbable than the facts.
First words
Richard Hannay is not, on the face of it, the most exciting of adventurers, yet more than any other hero he has come to embody the man of action pitted against the forces of misrule.
I returned from the City about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the original novel, there exist a number of adapted and abridged versions for english learners that should NOT be combined into it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441178, Paperback)

A gripping tale of adventure that has enthralled readers since it was first published, John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" is edited with an introduction and notes by Sir John Keegan in "Penguin Classics". Adventurer Richard Hannay has just returned from South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his London life - until a spy is murdered in his flat, just days after having warned Hannay of an assassination plot that could plunge Britain into a war with Germany. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay picks up the trail left by the assassins, fleeing to Scotland, where he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game - and warn the government before it is too late. One of the most popular adventure stories ever written, "The Thirty-Nine Steps" established John Buchan as the original thriller writer and inspired many other novelists and filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock. In his introduction to this edition, historian Sir John Keegan compares Buchan's life - his experiences in South Africa, his love of Scotland and his moral integrity - with his fictional hero. This edition also includes notes, a chronology and further reading. John Buchan (1875-1940) was born in Perth, and first began writing at Oxford University, producing two volumes of essays, four novels and two collections of stories and poems before the age of twenty-five. During the First World War he worked both as a journalist and at Britain's War Propaganda Bureau, eventually becoming Director of Information. He published his most popular novel, "The Thirty-Nine Steps", in 1915 - and it has never since been out of print. If you enjoyed "The Thirty-Nine Steps", you might like G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday", also available in "Penguin Classics". "Richard Hannay is...a modern knight-errant". ("Observer"). "Once you've started, you can't put the book down". (Stella Rimington).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Richard Hannay, a mining engineer, 'retires' at the age of 37, having made his fortune in Africa. He finds London dull, until he becomes caught up in a sensational plot to precipitate a pan-European war. Hannay is at first disinclined to believe the young American, with his incredible tales of international intrigue, and hints of a terrible secret. But when the American turns up dead in Hannay's flat, Hannay is forced to flee the attentions of both the conspirators and the law. Hannay is hunted across the Scottish moors by police and spy-ring alike, and must outwit his intelligent and pitiless enemy in the corridors of Whitehall and, finally, at the site of the mysterious thirty-nine steps.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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8 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141182857, 0141441178, 0141031263, 0141194723

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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