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The Wall Street Journal Review

‘The Real James Bond’ Review:
The Birder and the Spy

The ornithologist James Bond—like the secret agent who shares his name—was handy with firearms and able to work around officialdom.

James Bond with Eskimo Curlew (1)Photo: Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department

The ornithologist James Bond.

By Dominic Green

April 3, 2020 James Bond found the man who stole his identity at his island lair. On February 5, 1964, he went in for the kill. “I don’t read your books,” Bond told Ian Fleming. “My wife reads them all, but I never do.” Fleming had been expecting Mr. Bond—for 12 years, since the day when, searching for a blunt and masculine name for his newly invented fictional secret agent, the author had plucked Bond’s name from the spine of a volume called “Birds of the West Indies.”

As in the Bond novels, the villain (“short-sleeved black guayabera shirt, matching slacks, and open-toed sandals”) was confronted by Bond (in “a loud patterned shirt that shouted ‘tourist’ ”). Fleming showed Bond around his secluded lair, Goldeneye, then confessed everything. After a swim, Bond, accompanied on this mission by his wife, Mary, sat down to lunch with Fleming and his wife, Ann. Before the Bonds left, Fleming inscribed a copy of his new novel, “You Only Live Twice”: “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 12.12.17 PM“They couldn’t have been nicer about my theft of the family name,” Fleming reported. “They said it helped them get through customs.” It is not known whether Fleming said “Goodbye, Mr. Bond,” but he never saw Bond again. Six months later, Fleming died from a heart attack. His last words in the ambulance: “I am sorry to trouble you chaps.”

In the slim and elegant biography “The Real James Bond,” Jim Wright spills the secrets of Jim Bond (1900-89), the ornithologist from Philadelphia who had more than a name in common with his fictional double. Both Bonds were sons of privilege whose early lives were ruined by tragedy. Jim grew up on the Main Line, the child of stockbroker Francis Bond and his wife, Margaret Tyson, who was cousin to John Singer Sargent and granddaughter of John A. Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. James Bond lost his parents in a mountain-climbing accident; Jim Bond’s sister died in childhood, his mother died young and his father turned to drink. James was expelled from Eton; Jim, like Winston Churchill, was sent to Eton’s rival, Harrow, in 1913. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Jim “honed his marksmanship” in the Pitt Club, an “exclusive dining club and hunting group” whose future members would include the spies Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess.

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The Book Launch is March 3 in Philly

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Make your reservation now for my book launch at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia on March 3.RealJamesBond_CVR(1) (3)

It looks to be an awesome event, including my talk, a q-and-a with Academy ornithologist Nate Rice and me, a book signing, and display cases featuring real Jams Bond first editions and birds he collected for science (still used for research today).

You can get your tickets (and more info) here.

Here's the ANSP's press release:

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'Real James Bond': 1st Extensive Interview


James Bond Radio -- InterviewBack in August, when Schiffer Books announced a publication date for "The Real James Bond," writer Matthew Chernov contacted me immediately about an interview.

I said, "Sure -- but closer to when the book arrives."

Well, time flies, and here we are.

This online interview is the first in-depth look at the book, and hopefully worth waiting for.

You can read it here.

The book arrives in four weeks -- on Friday, Feb. 28. You can order a copy from Schiffer now by clicking the book's dustjacket in the top right-hand corner.

(The photo of me is by Kevin Watson. Thanks, Kevin!)


The Famous James Bond - Ian Fleming Photo

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On February 5, 1964, James and Mary Bond paid an unexpected visit to Goldeneye and met Ian Fleming.

It turned out to be a historic day, with Fleming and Bond talking about their books and Fleming giving Bond a copy of his soon-to-be-released "You Only Live Twice."

Fleming inscribed the book:

“To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity, Ian Fleming, Feb. 5, 1964 (a great day!).”

Mary Bond took the above photo, which is now in the archives of the Rare Book Department in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

It is the only known photo of the two men together. It is widely used -- alas without proper credit or attribution.

You can read more about the photo, the day, and the parallels between the two authors in my book.

By the way, I'll be doing a free talk at the Free Library on Saturday, April 11.

More info here.

FLP exterior Jim Wright (1)


'Real James Bond' in Schiffer's Spring Catalog

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.21.13 PM"The Real James Bond" is front and center in Schiffer Books' Spring 2020 catalog.

You can read the page devoted to the book here.

Among the photos featured on the page is a photo of a Hoatzin by a Watson (ace photographer Kevin Watson, that is.)  On James Bond's first expedition to South America, the Hoatzin was one of his target birds. You can read more in the book.

Also pictured: A photo of the real James Bond with Ian Fleming at Goldeneye in 2020. More about that photo is a future post.

The real Bond sought a Hoatzin on his first expedition to Latin America 95 years ago.

You can order the book in advance of the Feb. 28 publication date here.

 


Save the Date: Book Launch, March 3

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I am pleased to announce that the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia will host the official book launch for "The Real James Bond" on Tuesday evening, March 3.

I'll do a talk, a Q&A, and book signing.Bond1936 7.5 in

Bond worked for the Academy from 1926 into the 1980s. The Academy also published the first edition of his "Birds of the West Indies" in 1936.

A copy of the landmark book will be among the Bond items and other rarities on display. Exciting details to follow.

The Academy event will be the first of several book talks in March, April and May, including two major birding festivals.

Watch this space for more information.


More About the Birdman

RealJamesBond_CVR(1)The cover of my upcoming book has generated a bit of speculation.

Is the bird's head that of:

a. A Cuban Green Woodpecker.

b. A Flameback Woodpecker from Asia

c. Another species of woodpecker, going undercover.

I decided to ask Molly Shields, who should know -- she designed the cover for Schiffer Publishing.

Molly says: "I had fun working on this cover! I got the image from a Cuban stamp...  a Cuban Green Woodpecker, Xiphidiopicus percussus."

More about the Cuban Green Woodpecker here. (The photo in the link is by Michael J. Good of the Caribbean Conservation Trust,  the leader on my Cuba trip three years ago.)

Below: Earl Poole's drawing of the Cuban Green Woodpecker from Bond's Birds of the West Indies (1936 first edition).

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Who Is the Birdman on the Cover?

RealJamesBond_CVR(1)I am a big fan of the bird/man on the front cover of my upcoming book, but what kind of bird's head is that?

A couple of birding experts weighed in.

It is either a Cuban Green Woodpecker or a Flameback Woodpecker from Asia. Or another species of woodpecker, going undercover.

I will post the definitive answer (from the cover designer) this Friday.