1 February 2021 Susannah

Meet A Book Addict – Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

This month’s collector was also an author. Ian Fleming (1908–1964), famed for his James Bond novels, was a serious book collector.

His collection focused on books which he felt had had a big impact on mankind – Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Einstein’s The Basis of the General Theory of Relativity were some of the books he owned. His collection had books about birth control, the creation of TV, X-rays, atomic fission, penicillin, the Boy Scouts movement, and the invention of the motor car – all topics which, as he said, had “started something”.

He had an impressive collection of first editions (Goethe, Dickens, Balzac, Byron, Kipling, Proust, and much more), instructional books on sports and games, books celebrating the achievements of practical workers and innovative scientists, and books on germ theory, economic theory, and mathematics. In almost every area of innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the collection has been described as “amply representative”. The books are in the language in which they were originally issued.

His treasures include the first printed papers of the Wright Brothers, Bell’s original description of the invention of the telephone, Marconi’s own description of his ‘detector’, and a rare first issue of the Communist Manifesto.

Fleming worked for other book collectors as well. He ran a small publishing house, he served on the board of The Book Collector journal (this is still published and is run by Fleming’s nephews) which was seen as the most important journal of its kind in the world. In Who’s Who Fleming listed, under the heading ‘Recreations’, the hobby of ‘collecting first editions’.

His collection is still intact and is housed at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, USA. The library purchased the collection when Fleming died in 1964. The library was named for another book collector, Josiah K. Lilly, who gifted his more than 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to the university. I think I’ll have to add a visit to the Lilly Library to my next American tour, whenever that might be.

In many ways, Fleming was an unhappy man, but I like to think he was at his happiest when amongst his very impressive collection of books. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Ian Fleming, (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48649985
Body image credit- Fleming’s library in his home at Sevenhampton, near Swindon, The Ian Fleming Collection of 19th-20th Century Source Material, https://liblilly.sitehost.iu.edu/etexts/fleming/images/fleming-library.shtml

Comments (6)

  1. Louise Trott

    During 1956-1962, my mother Pat Bryant (before she married my father) was working as a Secretary for the Kuwait Oil Company. The head office was in Ahmadi, the KOC town. Ian Fleming had been commissioned to write a book about the history of the Company. He had to go around Kuwait to talk to interview various people, and would return to Ahmadi periodically with his next draft for the book. My mother was seconded to be his typist, and she had to type up the notes and drafts. She said he was very charming but businesslike. In the end the Ruling Family did not like his book and it never got published!
    See here for more info:

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s a fascainting story – a Fleming book that failed to get published. How amazing that your mother typed for him. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. Alan Hawke

    Yet more fascinating sides to Ian Fleming, thanks Susannah. I recall reading in a biography that he ran an early draft of James Bond past Somerset Maughan who he asked for an opinion of his “school boy tripe”. Maughan came back with advice to the effect of “cut down the S&M and there’ll be money in this!!!”.

  3. Patrick O'Neill

    Hello Susannah, I found this most interesting. My aunt-by-marriage was Anne Fleming. Her first husband Shane O’Neill was my uncle, my father’s eldest brother. He was killed before I was born but I did know Anne. I never met Ian but I occasionally played with their son Caspar, who ultimately inherited my electric train set! I never knew about this library but I’m glad it found a good home in the USA. One interesting connection Ian had with the USA doesn’t get much coverage. During the war, Ian was part of an intelligence delegation to the US from MI6. It was he and a colleague who persuaded President Roosevelt not to give J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI control over military intelligence (which Hoover craved). So in a way Ian Fleming played a small role in the creation of what ultimately became the CIA. You are right about him not being happy. The initial fire quickly dimmed between Anne and Ian in their marriage. His drinking didn’t help. Neither did her affairs. But I always remember her with great fondness.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh how fascinating – many thanks for sharing those memories. Yes, Ian Fleming was a man interested in starting things. I think he and Anne were great when she was his mistress, but once they married, the fire went out. He can’t have been an easy man to live with.

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