Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Thirty-Nine Steps (Richard Hannay, #1)” as Want to Read:
The Thirty-Nine Steps (Richard Hannay, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Thirty-Nine Steps (Richard Hannay #1)

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  12,242 ratings  ·  1,067 reviews
Richard Hannay’s boredom with London society is soon relieved when the resourceful engineer from South Africa is caught up in a web of secret codes, spies, and murder on the eve of WWI. When a neighbor is killed in his flat, Richard, suspected, decodes the journal, runs to the wilds of his native Scotland in disguises and local dialects, evades Germans and officials.
Kindle Edition
Published July 25th 2011 (first published 1915)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Thirty-Nine Steps, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Thirty-Nine Steps

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jeffrey Keeten
”I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no men or women ought to feel.” Richard Hanney in The 39 Steps.

 photo Richard-Hannay-by-John-Buchan_zps34a64afb.jpg

In the edition that I read Toby Buchan, grandson of John Buchan, wrote an introduction that was almost an apology. About half way through the book I understood the need for an apology. The book pales in comparison to the movie. The writing is jaunty and for a while sustains the reader, but soon I was searching desperatel...more
Mike Jensen
How can a classic be so bad? Melodramatic, as expected, but Buchan piles improbability upon improbability insulting your intelligence until by the end you just want to slap him. This is an important book in that it sprung many imitators, and some claim it is the start of the spy genre. It has been filmed three times, adapted for radio and television, inspired the chase film genre, and certainly it gave Alfred Hitchcock his basic subject. Buchan was a political man, and he uses the book for a lit...more
Emily May
Aug 18, 2012 Emily May rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily May by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
I am currently working my way through the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and decided to read Buchan's short mystery/spy novel because it seemed like a quick and easy option to take me a step closer to maybe one day completing the list. I never imagined it would be such a painfully boring slog.

Some books made the big list because they are actually good, some because they are (or were) scandalous, some because they are so far away from pretty much everything else that's been writ...more

This is a novel the literary importance of which I have no trouble appreciating. First published in 1915, it's the ancestor of the espionage thriller genre featuring the rugged-man-of-action-on-the-run style of hero. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I was a regular reader of that genre. I'm not and consequently I was distinctly underwhelmed.

What I didn't like about the work first. For me, the main problem is that the plot pushes the concept of implausibility to its extreme limits. I'm g...more
Jun 30, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes tweed and boys own adventure stories
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Blink and you might miss this 1001 book listed novella which weighs in at around 100 pages. The Thirty-Nine steps was the book which spawned Richard Hannay, gallant man-about-town, colonial adventurer and official holder of the title, "Man with the stiffest upper lip in the British Empire", that is of course until James Bond exploded off the page in a miasma of cigarette smoke and dinner jackets in 1953.

Hannay sets the pace for the spy-thriller-action-adventure-life-and-limb genre which has sinc...more
Thanks to the extremely cheap "Penguin Classics" series, this summer I've had a chance to catch up on a heap of books I might not otherwise have read. In the spy-thriller genre, there was Erskine Childers' "Riddle of the Sands", and this book by John Buchan.

Of course, I'd seen the Hitchcock film, but didn't really remember much of it. Someone posted a question, wondering if the book matches the excellence of the movie. In a word: "absolutely". I read the first chapter several weeks ago, then put...more
"Contrary to general belief, I was not a murderer, but I had become an unholy liar, a shameless imposter, and a highwayman with a marked taste for expensive motor-cars."

Richard Hannay's life is boring. At the beginning of this novel, the hero of this story is "pretty well disgusted with life" and wishes for any kind of excitement to get him out of the humdrum "ditch" he feels he's currently stuck in. Enter a man named Scudder, an American (yay!) journalist, who's gathered a little too much info...more
Kristopher Kelly
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Well well, so once again it's time for another edition of "Book Versus Movie," a concept I frankly ripped off from the Onion AV Club, in which I both read a book and see the movie based on that book in the same week, and end up writing mini-reviews of both at the same time. (Don't bother looking for...more
Mar 09, 2010 Werner rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of adventure stories; fans of espionage/intrigue-type plots
The above description (which I wrote --it didn't have one before, only an unilluminating, seemingly random quotation from the book) gives you a one-sentence idea of the type of book this is, and the setting/milieu. Like his protagonist, Richard Hannay (who appears in other Buchan works as well), the author had spent considerable time in southern Africa, and led an adventurous life. Novels of espionage in 1915 were in their infancy; but the outbreak of World War I, and the climate of intrigue tha...more
This book is nearly 100 years old and outdated attitudes aside it hasn't really aged a day. You may call The 39 Steps the Grandfather of the modern thriller and mean it in a semi-disparaging way, but in the sense that the Grandfather is the mould from which a million grandchildren are formed you'd be correct.

Sadly the thriller in popular fiction has largely ignored Darwin's theory of evolution and as such most modern day fare consists of misformed jelly that wasn't allowed time to set, a xerox...more
The Thirty-Nine Steps, published in 1915, was the first of Scottish novelist John Buchan’s five Richard Hannay espionage novels.

Buchan produced both fiction and non-fiction and wrote in a variety of genres including some excellent horror stories and even what could be described as a paranormal adventure novel (The Gap in the Curtain). Buchan was also a successful politician and ended his career as governor-General of Canada (as Lord Tweedsmuir).

But it is for the Richard Hannay novels that he is...more
I hadn't heard of this book until recently, when it made a surprise appearance on The Guardian's Best 100 English Novels list. It's an early spy novel, written in 1915 and set just before WWI, and a smashing and brisk read. It was written by a John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, and I did not make that up. Baron Tweedsmuir.

Baron Tweedsmuir, at your service sirrah

It cites Kipling and Conrad as influences, appropriately, and there's some mention of Holmes as well, but its primary influence is clea...more
Quite a ride! I enjoyed Hannay and will read more in the series. Most of the characters Hannay met in his travels were interesting. I especially liked Turnbull. Hannay reminds me of Haggard's Allan Quatermain in that they are both reserved and think of themselves as rather ordinary men.
Apr 13, 2009 Richard marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Christopher Booker's "Seven Basic Plots"
(Apparently considered among the first "spy" novels, and the basis for the movie of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. I was led to John Buchan by a footnote in Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (p. 317) in which he claims "Buchan was one of the few modern fiction writers Tolkien admired.")

Note: available online here, and on Goodreads as a downloadable TXT ebook. Copyright has expired for works published before 1923.
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
A detective, espionage, murder, assassination thriller all rolled into one. Set in Scotland and England before the second world war. Germans are the bad guys. Hero is Richard Hannay, a bored Scot with nothing to do, sucked into this world of conspiracy and mayhem by accident. No high-tech gadgets, or women, or car chases unlike in James Bond. But there are chases (in the countryside, Hannay mostly running/walking), clever disguises, cryptic codes. First published in 1915, and I am aware that 191...more
This early 20th century novel was probably more of an exciting read when it was first released before the "wrong man" thriller genre had become fairly well documented in many Alfred Hitchock films such as Saboteur, North by Northwest, and the film adatation of this book. Nevertheless, it was a short well written story that makes me want to read the rest of the novels in the Richard Hanney series. Next on my list is Greenmantle (Hanney #2) which supposedly Hitchcock thought was a superior story.
Rosanne Lortz
Spy thrillers are the sort of books you buy during a long layover at the airport and then leave conveniently in the back pocket of an airplane seat when you are done with them. Why don’t you bring them home to your bookshelf to preserve them for posterity? Because they’re formula novels–if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Once you’ve navigated the twists and turns and know the ending, there’s no reason to ever crack the cover again.

But one thing to remember is that every genre of formula n...more
This is yet another book that I find rather hard to write a review for and again it is mainly because I am of an age where I remember watching the film. I distinctly remember watching this movie at school and I guess that is the real problem, the book not only shows it's age but mine too.

For those who do not know the plot, the book is told in the first person by Richard Hannay an ex-pat who has recently returned to the old ancestral homeland with a fair amount of money but with no friends or oth...more
I thoroughly enjoyed The 39 Steps despite the fact that it wasn't a bit like the Hitchcock movie and I couldn't possibly believe that Hannay was the same size as all those characters whose clothes he borrowed. It's a very short novel and zips along like a speeding car.
Mildly entertaining ridiculousness. It was written by the author while he was bored during a period of illness. He states himself that the story's "incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible." As such, I don't think it's meant to be taken overly seriously, and I simply read it with a smile and enjoyed the goofy bumbling around.

Note to self: next time someone holds you hostage, all you have to do is (view spoiler)...more

John Buchan wrote "The Thirty-Nine Steps" while he was seriously ill at the beginning of World War I. In it, he introduces his most famous hero, Richard Hannay, who, despite claiming to be an "ordinary fellow", is caught up in the dramatic race against a plot to devastate the British war effort. Hannay is hunted across the Scottish moors by police and a pitiless enemy in the corridors of Whitehall and, finally, at the site of the mysterious 39 steps. The best-known...more
Feb 27, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Donna Brazile
Shelves: own, covers, fiction
I didn't enjoy this as much as The Island of Sheep, the fourth Richard Hannay adventure, but it was still entertaining, in that ridiculous Buchan way. Hannay is back in England, bored off his gourd after an adventure-filled stint in Rhodesia. He's determined to leave the country unless excitement comes back into his life, whereupon a frightened chap named Scudder involves him in a tale of intrigue, mayhem, spying, lots of wanderings through the heather and the moors, and multiple disguises, as a...more
May 05, 2008 Jessica marked it as started-but-could-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Jessica by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
I gave this one a try. I got about a third into it, and just completely lost interest.

A young man in search of adventure and excitement is approached by a neighbor and told of this secret plot to kill the Greek head-of-state. He is basically so bored with his life that he agrees to get involved. When his neighbor dies, he hits the road in the search of the bad guys and a solution.

I did not find the main character like. He is a rich and spoiled man who has nothing better to do than complain. When...more
Prasad Kulkarni
I came across this book from a list of “BBC Top 100” books. Somehow I felt like reading the book and I started the process.
Let me tell you in the beginning only. The book isn’t “that” fascinating, but still you can go and read for it has some nice old school English phrases and speech techniques. The book is a little fast at some point and a bit too much sluggish at the other. But it still catches your interest and you go on reading it. There is mention of some places in Early London. And if you...more
Jun 10, 2007 Alison rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I have know idea why I picked this book to read. I heard somewhere that it was the original spy the same family as the James Bond or Jason Bourne series. And I had heard of the Hitchock movie.

I really enjoyed this short little read. It packs a punch. It tells the story of a man in England who has a visitor one night that claims to know about a secret mission to kill a Greek diplomat and launch England into the War. When the man is killed, Richard Hannay (the character's name...there a...more
This was fun, like the adventure stories I read when I was younger, or like an Enid Blyton book with a grown-up hero. I also can't help comparing it to The Riddle of the Sands, which also involves an ordinary Englishman somehow learning that Germany has secret plans to start a war with Britain, and how he is the only person that can find out more and foil those plans. It was a bit more believable in The riddle of the sands, because in this book everything came too easily to Richard Hannay, the h...more
A lightweight as far as thrillers go but it is one of the earliest so that does count for something. I can't say any of it really surprised me but I did feel I was being pulled along on an adventure.

What I did appreciate about this book was the glimpse into the politics that surrounded the first World War from an espionage perspective. I would recommend reading this from that alone.

I enjoyed this but not enough to seek out more adventures of Mr. Hannay. As for the movie I think I'm an odd duck a...more
My review of "The Thirty-nine Steps" and "The Man in the Queue" as a Good Cop-Bad Cop scene (incorporates review of "The Man in the Queue").

Good Cop: Ms. Tey, it's clearly evident that your book borrowed heavily from Lord Tweedsmuir's. Why don't you just make it easy on yourself and tell us the truth?

Bad Cop: Where did you get some of those plot details, Tey! ANSWER THE QUESTION!

(see review of "The Man in the Queue")

Good Cop: I guess she ain't sayin' nothin'.

Bad Cop slowly puts on black finger...more
Nov 15, 2008 Katie rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who find it in the library
Recommended to Katie by: the remainder rack
Two bucks, two stars. Buchan was one of the supremo snob sahib racist upper-class twit novelists of the British Raj, and it shows. He also doesn't get some of the details right. It's a nice adventure, nice picture of the highlands and all (as long as you're from PA and don't know what Scotland looks like), but I had a hard time following it at times. Give me The Scotch Twins anytime; at least Lucy Fitch Perkins has a sense of humor. I don't think the Edwardians ever laughed at themselves.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
All About Books: Week 42 - The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan 11 22 Jul 09, 2014 07:22AM  
BYU-Adolescent Li...: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan 1 2 Jun 10, 2014 04:29PM  
2014 Reading Chal...: The 39 Steps by John Buchan 34 31 Apr 18, 2014 01:43AM  
The 39 Steps and The Catcher in the Rye 1 32 Feb 28, 2014 06:41PM  
"Monster Cla...: the 39 steps 1 3 Jan 22, 2014 01:24AM  
SFBC: The Thirty-Nine Steps 1 5 Aug 27, 2013 05:58PM  
  • The Riddle of the Sands
  • Rogue Male
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios
  • Sybil, or the Two Nations
  • Fantômas (Fantômas, #1)
  • The Diary of a Nobody
  • The Ministry of Fear
  • The Lodger
  • The Bottle Factory Outing
  • Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
  • Sunset Song
  • Ashenden
  • The Great Impersonation
  • Nightmare Abbey
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • The Black Sheep
  • The Beast Must Die (Nigel Strangeways, #4)
  • Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (A.J. Raffles, The Gentleman Thief #1)
John Buchan (1st Baron Tweedsmuir) was a British novelist and public servant who combined a successful career as an author of thrillers, historical novels, histories and biographies with a parallel career in public life. At the time of his death he was Governor-General of Canada.

Buchan was born in Scotland and educated at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. After a brief career in law he went to Sou...more
More about John Buchan...
Greenmantle (Richard Hannay #2) Mr. Standfast (Richard Hannay, #3) The Three Hostages (Richard Hannay #4) Prester John The Island of Sheep (Richard Hannay #5)

Share This Book

“I am an ordinary sort of fellow, not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed, and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play the game in his place.” 13 likes
“It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might keep a man from yawning.” 10 likes
More quotes…