Superspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond

"Bond's the name, Jame Bond," is how he introduces himself. In the books and films we learn that he has a license to kill, which he uses to get any number of baddies who stand in his way of eliminating super villains. He is helped in this endeavor with an arsenal of quirky, powerful weapons, gadgets, cars, planes and other paraphernalia that are beyond belief. Over the years the franchise, both book and film, has expanded and readers and viewers know they will be in for lots of thrills with Bond always the cool, calm hero. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, said that in some ways the novels were meant as an entertainment, and that they are, but after so many years why does this franchise continue to attract so many? Dr. Kathryn Harkup, a former chemist and author, nails it and us: “Part of the joy of watching and reading these stories is living a thrilling vicarious life from the comfort of our sofa, basking in the glamour but untroubled by the danger from which our fictional hero is always fighting to extricate himself.” Her goal is to explain it all from “the point of view of a fan and a scientist. … Film by film and iconic moment by iconic moment, this book explores some of the many tropes that we have come to love and expect from a Bond adventure. … [as we ] head off on our mission to explore the science of James Bond.”

From the get-go Dr. Harkup brings us more than scientific analysis, all of it achieved with wit and charm stirred and shaken with some serious knowledge. Each numbered chapter is a riff on our hero’s 007 number, e.g., 001, 002, 003. She documents how some of the real technology that was replicated in the movies required its own special technology so that it could be displayed and picked up, to full effect, in a filmed version. An example of how science outweighs art is in the film Goldfinger, where Bond finds Jill Masterson dead, having suffocated from being painted with gold. Dr. Harkup presents a detailed chemical analysis why this could not have taken place based on the time factors in the plot. Bond's repeated exposure to atomic radiation would have certainly killed him, if not made him glow in the dark. She also analyzes the various ways that different actors portrayed Bond and how this often reflected societal changes at the time a movie was produced.

An analysis of recurring themes, assumptions and anecdotes are also part of this book:  Bond characters possess “supreme self-assurance that oozes from every frame." There are domestic (England) and international locations.There are clever, seemingly made up names, but many were based on people Ian Fleming knew. One name, Goldfinger (a super villain), caused threatening legal action by an architect with the same name. Fleming would not change the name and said, “Tell him if there’s any more nonsense I’ll put an erratum slip and change the name throughout to Goldprick and give the reason why.” Bond always commandeers a sleek, fast, quick-responding sports car, loaded to the gills with an arsenal of weapons and gadgets, and he knows how to use all of them.  All in all Bond would be considered a fast learner. He is always impeccably dressed and so are the female characters. James Bond travels a lot, but his preferred taste in food remains the same, and of course there is the James Bond martini.

Dr. Harkup the chemist debunks many of the ploys and tricks in the books and films and does it with a sense of proportion, and displays her own literary knowledge, playfulness and wit. Even if you have not read all the James Bond books or seen all the James Bond films, this book will provide its own delight and fun.

Dr. Harkup has written other books which can be found here. She has been interviewed twice by Daryl M.: January 5, 2023 about this book, and on July 2, 2020; and his review of Making the Monster: the Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. More about Dr. Harkup's expertise can be found here.

The book list If You Like James Bond will give you more books about this very popular character.