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The Thirty-Nine Steps (Richard Hannay #1)

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  17,434 Ratings  ·  1,427 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)
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Sharon Two movies, actually. One by Hitchcock that only barely follows the same plotline, and one in 2008 that more closely follows the story. The changes in…moreTwo movies, actually. One by Hitchcock that only barely follows the same plotline, and one in 2008 that more closely follows the story. The changes in the '08 movie aren't terrible, and it's an enjoyable movie, but the book is more interesting.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 29, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
”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
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Emily May
Aug 18, 2012 Emily May rated it did not like it  ·  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
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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
Kim
Jun 06, 2014 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle

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
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Alex
May 26, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, rth-lifetime
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
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Shovelmonkey1
Jun 30, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it liked it  ·  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
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Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. 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
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David
Aug 28, 2007 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2007
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
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
I first learned of this book when it was brought up on an episode of the Reading Envy podcast, and I could not resist reading this early spy novel.

The novel is in the public domain, and has been made available in audio by Librivox. Jesse at SFF Audio took those files and edited them into one track to make it easier to download. Then he invited some friends to discuss the book - I learned a few things from that discussion that helped place the book in context.

The book is short, and that probably
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Kristopher Kelly
Jan 16, 2012 Kristopher Kelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tfitoby
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
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Hope
"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
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Dfordoom
Jul 28, 2012 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-fiction
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
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Bloodorange
Dec 28, 2015 Bloodorange rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
3.5 stars. A short, old-fashioned spy thriller with a touch of humour, which reminded me of a video game or role playing game; the protagonist is very resourceful, the ending scene merits four stars, descriptions of characters and nature are really pleasing. I might actually want to see one of the movie versions.
Duane
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) was published just prior to the start of WWI, and the political intrigue surrounding that figured prominently in the plot. So it's an international spy mystery with just a hint of comic relief. I listened to the LibreVox recording, narrated by Adrian Praetzellis, and was thoroughly entertained. His gift of imitating accents and applying his voice so well to the different characters set a tone that I would have missed if I had read the book.
Dagny
Dec 07, 2014 Dagny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Bryan Alexander
Apr 24, 2015 Bryan Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, spy
A fun romp, important in the history of spy fiction, and a fascinating glimpse into the way people imagined WWI during the war.

A few notes:

39 Steps is nearly dreamlike in its implausibilities. Wild coincidences drive most of the plot. There are a good amount of "amazing chance[s]". This leads to some very entertaining scenes, like the impromptu speech and improv road repair routine.

Much of the novel is a love letter to the Scots countryside.

Action is elegantly written, very fast, understated,
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Werner
Mar 09, 2010 Werner rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
Antje
Der siebenundreißigjährige Richard Hannay, der Ich-Erzähler dieses Romans, stellt sich uns zu Beginn ausführlich vor. Seit drei Monaten aus Südafrika in seiner alten Heimat Großbritannien zurückgekehrt, beginnt er sich zu langweilen und sich nach Abwechslung zu sehnen. Die soll ihn auch prompt in die Wohnungstür fallen und zwar in Form seines Nachbarns, der ihn dringlich um Hilfe bittet. Und schon sieht sich Hannay inmitten einer abenteuerreichen wie gefährlichen Spionagegeschichte, die ihn woch ...more
Gerry
Oct 26, 2014 Gerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I became enchanted with 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' when we did it as a set book at school and since then I have read it a number of times and seen the various film versions with Robert Donat's Hannay being my favourite followed closely by Kenneth More.

So having found a copy in a secondhand shop I purchased and began my 39th read (well, not quite) and thankfully it remained as good as ever, if perhaps a little dated by today's standards. But that never worries me!

Hannay, fresh from South Africa, is
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Richard
Oct 16, 2015 Richard marked it as to-read-3rd  ·  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.
Sean
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.
Suzanne Moore
This spy novella, originally published in 1915, was chosen for our town's first centennial read. I presume the author was influenced by the impending WWI as he crafted this adventure story. Richard Hannay the main character has to take to the run when a stranger (Scudder) he offers shelter to ends up stabbed to death in his apartment. Before Scudder meets his demise, he shares a political secret ... planned assassination of a Greek ambassador ... that could trigger a world war. Richard realizes ...more
Peter
Aug 04, 2011 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Fiona
Nov 21, 2012 Fiona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have such a soft spot for The Thirty-Nine Steps. It contains many of the things I love: international intrigue, secret codes, very English gentlemen, lots of messing about on trains, and most of all, SCOTLAND.

It’s been turned into a film on multiple occasions, and it’s easy to see why: wild chases panoramic landscapes of lochs and decrepit farm houses, the odd aeroplane, the all-important melodramatic yet shady German villains, and the occasional well-timed explosion. No wonder it was pounced
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Jonathan
The thirty nine steps has a remarkably unbelievable plot with a lot of deus ex machina. And yet the book is a classic because despite all the unbelievable elements it succeeds. Some critical readers may miss the brilliance of this novel due to their pedantic and uppish views. Such brilliance is that it successfully with few words creates a narrative that serves the purpose of any good novel. And that is to engage the reader with a story, no matter how unbelievable. Who cares how believable the s ...more
Michael
This book didn’t really engage me at all, I was expecting some exciting adventure about Espionage; but The thirty-nine steps didn’t deliver. There were some good bits but for the most of it I thought there interactions were too unrealistic. The movie is so much better, the book just felt like a bit of a miss.
Carol
Just an old-fashioned spy thriller filled with adventure and mayhem. While sometimes ridiculous to a fault with the numerous disguises, I found it very entertaining in a James Bond sort of way. A short fast read with a unique ending. Now I really must see the Alfred Hitchcock version of the movie!
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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...

Other Books in the Series

Richard Hannay (5 books)
  • Greenmantle (Richard Hannay #2)
  • Mr. Standfast (Richard Hannay, #3)
  • The Three Hostages (Richard Hannay #4)
  • The Island of Sheep (Richard Hannay #5)

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