The Secret Agent
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The Secret Agent

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  8,341 ratings  ·  588 reviews
A group of revolutionaries in the backstreets of 19th-century London plot the destruction of the Greenwich Observatory in this 1907 masterpiece of suspense. Rich in atmosphere and psychological realism, the tale centers on a shopkeeper whose double life encompasses a quiet family circle, active friendships with anarchists, and allegiance to a foreign government.
Paperback, 197 pages
Published November 9th 2001 by Dover Publications (first published 1907)
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
My ratings are very moody and just generally not to be trusted. Having gotten that fact out in the open for the umpteenth time, I will say that I thought this was a very good book. Love, no. Like very much, yes. I especially hearted the last-ish part with the wife and the train and ole dude's stop, drop, and roll in mid-air move because ACTION! SUSPENSE! HEARTBREAK! PLOTSY TWIRLS! In fact, most of my favorite scenes involved Winnie V, while some other sections, particularly some of the more beat...more
Amanda
I thought that The Secret Agent was a genuinely fascinating profile of modern (by which I mean 1905) London society, and I found Conrad's picture of society being driven by personal interest and the lust for political power to be incredibly modern (by which I mean 2008) in its deep pessimism and sceptical view of human nature. Conrad presents us with a wide spectrum of characters, from loyal wives and impoverished cabdrivers to police officers and activist anarchists, each of whom is motivated...more
Tfitoby
Second book in a row that appears on American high school curriculum and this time I have to wonder what educators are trying to achieve by teaching it. The text is very dense and I can't imagine many teens getting anything out of this when having it forced upon them. Without a doubt Conrad can tell stories and knows the words to tell them with but Jesus he has inspired the least impressive review I have ever felt the need to write. Page after page of political ranting, no thank you. I'm sorry D...more
umberto
First published in 1907, this spy fiction might be a literary adventure to those unfamiliar with Joseph Conrad's writing style enriched by apt, scholarly words and idioms admirable for his writing as his third language. From its 13 chapters, I found reading its first three fourths confusing due to its plot; however, I kept reading and gradually saw the light around Chapters 9-10 onwards. Then I enjoyed reading Chapter 11 in which I christened by noting as a tragic chapter since all episodes reac...more
Yulia
Mar 05, 2012 Yulia marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I actually thought the first chapter was perfection. So how could the creator of that chapter have produced the second chapter, allowing everything he'd built up to be ravaged by adverbs? Did Conrad use up his Spidey juice? Or was he saving his talent for later efforts, believing one solid chapter would be enough to lull the reader into head-bobbing idolatry? I don't get it.
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
My first Joseph Conrad. Like Clarice Lispector, he was born in Ukraine but was raised elsewhere (Poland, in Conrad's case).

The impression this book left me is that Conrad wasn't only a gifted storyteller with deep psychological insights, but he was also the type who can erupt with melodious and poetic language even in such trifles as a cabman looking at some pieces of silver given to him by a passenger as payment for a ride:

"The cabman looked at the pieces of silver, which, appearing very minut...more
Alan
this is a re-read - chosen because it was a small hardback copy and fitted in my inside pocket so's I could read on the train (replacement bus!) on a trip to the folks. About time I re-read anyway, the last time was for 'A' level in 1973. The copy I have is a school copy too (from 1960), and has double lines next to paragraphs saying 'IRONY' and others 'DESCRIPTION' - I'm glad they told me, I wouldn't have known.

Read c100 pages on the trip there and back and it's as good as I remember, although...more
Rashaan
Like his fellow genius scribes, E. Bronte and Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad plunges us into the dark Nietzschean swamps of the human soul. He dares to look into the abyss and unflinchingly reaches in, grasping the monsters within us. With his adept hands, in the blazing light of his vision and words, Conrad holds us up to ourselves.

Winne Verloc, like Kurtz, is vividly cast. She is a white, hot flash of brilliance. Conrad depicts her in crystal clear pitch. She seems to be drawn from Ophelia, innoce...more
James
With G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday sitting on my to-read list for a while now it seemed like a happy coincidence when Will Self chose it as his favourite cultural work on an episode of Front Row recently. He'd recently reread the novel and this one, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent , back to back. Never one to walk away from a reading challenge, and having a copy of The Secret Agent already on my Kindle, I thought I'd do the same.

The secret agent is Mr Adolf Verloc, an odd little m...more
Melody
Jul 02, 2009 Melody rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bryan Johnson
Trying to decide if you “liked” a book can become a complicated process. Oh, not for some books. Some books catch you quickly and slyly sink in and mingle with your reality and whisper to you during the day when you are supposed to be working or driving or running. But there are some just plain stubborn books; books that almost seem to be daring you to put them down and move on to something else. Conrad’s The Secret Agent affected me that way. I read the Introduction, the select Bibliography, th...more
James
Dec 25, 2007 James rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone not afraid
First, I hate Conrad as a matter of principle. Nostromo made my mind vomit uncontrollably... And don't get me started on Heart of Darkness...

The Secret Agent, however, is unique among Conrad's "work." First of all, the cynicism is directed not just at one or two groups but the entire culture of the western world and the many flawed sub-cultures springing from it. Each group has an anti-hero that you find yourself rooting for one moment and rooting for another character to catch him the next...

Th...more
Sketchbook
Grand opera.
Tosca stabs Scarpia. Victorian London, amid a nest of spies
and terrorists. Classic stuff fr a non-stylist who is, nonetheless,
a great writer (Conrad's first language was Polish, his 2d French,
he wrote in English). A strong influence on Graham Greene,
Conrad rips open a marital horror bet a scuzzy anarchist and his
simple wife after her teen brud is killed x his bomb.

Their marriage was legalized prostitution and, in her outrage,
the shattered sister becomes a murderer. "She did not know...more
Jonfaith
My best friend Joel has a friend Bob who teaches at Rutgers. Nearly a decade ago, before becoming a scholarly expert on Borat, he stated that in terms of literature he wasn't going to bother with anything written later than 1920; what was the point, he'd quip? I admired his pluck. While I'm not sure he still ascribes to such. Well, for a couple of weeks I adhered to the goal. There have been many goals with a similar history: sigh. This was my first effort and what an amazing novel it is.

It is...more
Patrick McCoy
Ever since 9/11 there have been many a reference to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, which has piqued my interest. I saw a cheap copy and picked it up recently and read it. I've read a couple of Conrad novels before (The Hear of Darkness and Lord Jim), but it has been a long time. The 19th century pacing that requires time to introduce and flesh out the main characters and set up the action. In this novel it takes almost 2/3 of the novel to achieve this goal, despite the fact that the novel is...more
T.B. Markinson
When the novel was first released in 1907, the action in the story takes place in 1886, it didn’t fare too well. In fact, during Conrad’s lifetime the sales picked up some, but not a whole lot. Today, many think The Secret Agent is one of his best novels.

Personally I can see why it didn’t sell all that well when it was first released. For me the issue is that Conrad understands human nature. There’s a reason why I hate watching the news since each evening there are stories about how humans can b...more
Uncle
Joseph Conrad was a contemporary of many of my favorite writers. So I really have no logical excuse for putting off his novels and stories for so long. Having recently finished his very dark spy tale, The Secret Agent, I wish I had started his books a long time ago.

The Secret Agent was published in 1907, but the story it tells is actually set in 1886. But the book does not, in my opinion, feel “Victorian”. If I was looking to compare Conrad’s writing style to that of other writers, my most like...more
Leslie
Despite its name, this is not a James Bond type story. First of all, it is set in 1880s London and involves a small group of mostly ineffectual anarchists. Secondly, the primary characteristic of the main "secret agent" is laziness! Conrad gives us wonderful portraits of these disaffected men, each of whom is disgruntled for different reasons, as well as the rest of the Verloc family.

As I was reading this, I kept having the sensation of deja vu. I knew that I had never read this before, but cer...more
James
While Joseph Conrad wrote this novel more than a century ago and the story is set in London in 1886, it is still timely with the predominance of terrorism in the news today. The novel deals largely with the life of one Mr. Verloc and his job as a spy interacting with secretive agencies and groups. Moving away from tales of the sea Conrad had begun to write more political novels focusing on contemporary themes of which The Secret Agent is a notable example. The novel deals broadly with the notion...more
Dave/Maggie Bean
Conrad’s one of my favorite authors, and has been for a very long time. Whatever his detractors may say of him, his insight into human nature was almost frighteningly keen. This multi-layered novel examines opportunism, corruption, sh*t-stirring, fear mongering, nihilism, and the impotent desperation of the habitual malcontent. Especially relevant in the “post 9/11 world.”

One of Conrad’s bleakest, most claustrophobic novels (although Under Western Eyes certainly comes close), The Secret Agent i...more
Mary Ronan Drew
It was the 14th of January when I started reading this book, The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad. I finished it on the 12th of October. And I was reading the whole while. Just not a lot at a time. Which turned out to be a fine way to read this particular story, which moves slowly. And it gave me time to read and re-read carefully some of the language, which always amazes me when I read Conrad. English was not his first language. I was going to say his native language, but he really did make himse...more
Daniel
If I hadn't "freed" myself from the fetters of public education I would have come to this gem a lot earlier on. As it happened, sometime during my eternal formal education, a direct superior of mine mentioned reading Conrad's sea stories and I so I tried them. I wasn't in the mood for sailing but noticed he had written this spy story novel. (Like a lot of people I know, I wish I was a spy on alternate Tuesday's of months with 31 days in them.) Even I found more in this book than just a detective...more
Neil Denham
really tedious. i know many regard it as a classic, but i found any story there is in there is swamped by odd details, confusing political ramblings and side musings that appear unrelated. perhaps i am just not clever enough to 'get it'...
Miranda
Wow for a book published in 1907 it has some suprisingly modern insights! I read this book because it is on the "1001 Books to Read Before You Die" List and I am slowly working my way through the list. I chose this book as the second one to read off the list because although it had a lot to say it sounded like an easy read. I wasn't wrong there. Although it took a bit to get into at the beginning, by the end it was a fast paced read that left you wondering how it was all going to end. The charac...more
Elizabeth
Like much of Conrad's work, this is a dark book. The title character is an Englishman named Verlac working for a central European government (unnamed but the officials have German and Slavic names). His mission is to go underground among anarchists exiled in London (the bomb-throwing kind, though few of them actually get to that point) and to inform his employers whenever one of the anarchists is likely to mount an attack against the homeland. A change of personnel in the embassy, however, has p...more
Marley
Over 30 years ago a co-workers recommended The Secret, but I didn't take it up until the other night. And what a book it is.

I had problems getting into at first. I thought Conrad was over-descriptive and it was a bit ponderous to read. (Well, to be honest, the over-description didn't let up). But once I got used to it and settled into the novel,that over-description seemed very important. While certainly a "thriller" and an early example of the espionage/spy novel, it's also a domestic novel, th...more
Nick Sweeney
Another example of JC's vivid, expert storytelling. As with Nostromo, the spark of the story hinges on a casual conversation he had with an acquaintance; they were discussing an anarchist bombing in Greenwich in the late 1990s, and a chance remark about the hapless bomber got Conrad thinking.

First off, it's an engaging look at the conspiracists of Europe in the late 1890s: revolutionaries, and anarchists competed with one another for the 'purest' approach to changing the status quo, and were, in...more
Tyler Jones
I think this is one of the finest novels of the 20th Century for the following reasons:

1) The language is magnificent. For a reader such as myself, who likes to get lost in tangential thoughts mid-sentence, Conrad offers a warm bath we can soak in. I often just let the sentences flow over me in waves of color and music (I usually read Faulkner this way too), but if I want to stop and extract all the meaning from one of his dense little beauties I just pull the golden ribbon and what appears to b...more
Lyn
I have only run across a few writers who can adeptly and accurately plumb the depths of the human soul. Joseph Conrad is one of those authors and he is on a short list of talented creators who seem to have two fingers on the pulse of primordial man as he still lives and breathes beneath the surface composure of his civilized evolution. For Conrad, the ability to strip off the etiquette, culture, and social mores of western thought is as eventful as watching sun bathers lose their clothing on the...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
First, I might be rating this wrong. It might be only 4 stars, but I'm pretty sure this is a very memorable read and have bumped it accordingly.

I love Conrad's writing style. There was so much packed into each sentence and paragraph.
And a peculiarly London sun--against which nothing could be said except that it looked bloodshot--glorified all this by its stare. It hung at a moderate elevation above Hyde Park Corner with an air of punctual and benign vigilance. The very pavement under Mr. Verloc
...more
Christian Leonard Quale
This is a random read from the "1001 books you should read before you die"-list, so I knew nothing about this book other than its title. I started reading, and from the start I really didn't like it. In fact, I actively disliked it. I found the first half of the book to be a muddled and messy blend of politics, social commentary, satire and attempts at humour. As standalone elements all of these would probably have held up, but the way in which they were blended together made the story confusing...more
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Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ) was a Polish-born English novelist who today is most famous for Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized account of Colonial Africa.

Conrad left his native Poland in his middle teens to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He joined the French Merchant Marine and briefly employed himself as a wartime gunrunner. He then began to work aboard Bri...more
More about Joseph Conrad...
Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary Lord Jim Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer

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“We can never cease to be ourselves.” 35 likes
“Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes.” 12 likes
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