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The Thirty-Nine Steps

(Richard Hannay #1)

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  26,889 ratings  ·  2,167 reviews
Recently returned from South Africa, adventurer Richard Hannay is bored with life, but after a chance encounter with an American who informs him of an assassination plot and is then promptly murdered in Hannay's London flat, he becomes the obvious suspect and is forced to go on the run. He heads north to his native Scotland, fleeing the police and his enemies. Hannay must ...more
Kindle Edition, 136 pages
Published May 12th 2012 (first published 1915)
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Caroline Actually, it was made into three feature movies, one BBC made-for-television movie, a British theatre one , and several radio adaptations, including…moreActually, it was made into three feature movies, one BBC made-for-television movie, a British theatre one , and several radio adaptations, including one with Orson Welles. None stick to the book, and nearly all include a love interest for Hannay, which is not in the book, either.(less)

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Average rating 3.61  · 
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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 desperate
...more
Bobby Underwood
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scotsman John Buchan’s fabulous The Thirty-Nine Steps is rightly considered a seminal classic in the Adventure/Spy genre and it is for good reason it was on The Guardian’s Best 100 English Novels list at #42.

This exciting tale of espionage defined the man-on-the-run tale in breathless fashion, and was the first of the author’s Richard Hannay tales. What remains remarkable is the contemporary prose. Though it takes place before the first World War, offering insight into the view of wh
...more
Emily May
Aug 16, 2012 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 written
...more
Fabian
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Run-of-the-mill outmoded thriller. With conventions that pile on & on like wretched clichés, "The 39 Steps" is somewhat thrilling, somewhat entertaining. A sure predecessor to "The Fugitive," it has our main man running from the law while hiding and acting the parts of the British lower classes. The theme being that camouflage is the best defense, while you're out on the offense.

There's reverse psychology, the usurping of identities, and the amateur loss of evidence (here, a moto
...more
Paul Bryant
Feb 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I LIKE THE CUT OF YOUR JIB

In this mercifully short ur-thriller our hero is the kind of guy who has an inbuilt trustometer which is activated by looking. He looks at another man and instantly can tell if he’s the decent, upstanding, plucky sort or the low, conniving, blackguard sort.

He was very young, but he was the man for my money. P30

I saw by this man’s eyes that he was the kind you can trust p43

Other men also have this impressive power of instant worthiness assessment :
/>I
...more
Joey Woolfardis
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

A fairly conceited man gets embroiled in a rather far-fetched murder-cum-political-conspiracy that can only be described as Man Walks Through A Lot Of Heather. Mercifully short, this book could have been even shorter if we didn't have to follow Mr Hannay the length and breadth of Scotland, only to hear about his aching feet.

Fairly regular stuff, adventurous without too much danger to qu
...more
Michael P.
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
Whispering Stories
When it was first published, this novel must have been fascinating reading. At the time the UK was at war with Germany and there were no doubt German spies in the country. The book was initially serialised in a magazine and many chapters end on the proverbial cliff hanger. As a result the story is fast paced and full of action.

In a dedication before the book John Buchan describes the book as a “dime novel” or “shocker” where ‘… the incidents defy the probabilities and march just insi
...more
Alex
Jul 27, 2014 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 clearly Robert Louis Stevenson'
...more
Kim
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
...more
Connie G
"The Thirty-Nine Steps" is a classic "innocent man on the run" adventure. Richard Hanney is housing his neighbor who is being followed by an anarchist gang called Black Stone. It's 1914 and the German gang is trying to steal British military plans. When Hanney returns to his flat, he finds the neighbor with a knife in his chest.

Hanney feels that he will be arrested for the murder so he takes off to Scotland. He's being hunted down by both the police and the Black Stone gang. Hanney c
...more
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.
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!
Alice-Elizabeth (marriedtobooks)
This was better than the previous books I had finished reading, however, the thriller just didn’t flow very comfortably for me personally. It was short, some of the details about Hannay while he was on the run from the police force were long and at times, quite boring to read about. The climax I felt was short and ended rather abruptly. I did like the visual settings and the dialogue however which potentially saved the story for me. As of right now, I won’t be continuing on with the series, I fe ...more
Char
Jul 28, 2016 marked it as dreaded-dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book, spy-novel
I get that this was an "old school" audio, but it still needs to be clearly audible for anyone to enjoy it and this was not. I'm bummed.
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
...more
David
Aug 03, 2007 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 a
...more
Kristopher Kelly
Jan 16, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luís C.
The book is very different from its film adaptation by Hitchcock. Less humor and suspense in the original work, but still a good time playing with this spy novel.
RJ
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
An early example of what would become the "spy" genre, Buchan's first "shocker" (as he called it) novel tells the fictitious tale of a pre-WWI German attempt to steal England's military secrets. The character Richard Hannay would go on to make appearances in several other Buchan stories, and 20 years after publication a young fellow by the name of Alfred Hitchcock released a film based (loosely) on this novel. The story is quaint by modern standards with very obvious Arthur Conan Doyle influences, bu ...more
Bill
This is a classic, an interesting, exciting story. It's similar but at the same time a fair bit different from Alfred Hitchcock's movie. Interesting story of a man caught up in extraordinary events which have the potential to dramatically change the outcome of the impending war, who uses his ingenuity and basic smarts to avoid his enemies. I'll leave it there as I don't want to spoil for anyone who hasn't read before. Excellent story.

Reread - I enjoyed this reread even more than the
...more
Shovelmonkey1
Jun 29, 2011 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 wh
...more
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 probab
...more
Cyndi
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An acquaintance of our hero tries to tell him a story of espionage that will lead to war. Then the buddy is murdered and our hero is afraid he will be charged with murder so he heads out on an adventure to prevent the bad guys from winning. He spends a lot of time in disguise and hiding from authorities and villains. It could have been a great story but because our hero made so many dumb moves the story squeaked its way up to just ok.
Cphe
A dated mystery/thriller certainly not politically correct by any means. ( I did wince once or twice when reading). However I do enjoy these type of novels, one man up against seemingly insurmountable odds. I did like the "hero" of the story Richard Hannay, a very resourceful man even though I felt he was just a tad too trusting at times.

Loved the atmosphere and the scenes of the beautiful Scottish countryside. A shorter read but worth a look at.
Mahlon
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
A tautly written tale which will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. It's very easy to see why this has received multiple film adaptations. My only criticism would be I was disappointed in the ending after the suspenseful build up.
Adrienne
Read long ago and read it a few times. Loved all 3 movie versions
Werner
Sep 19, 2008 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
Dfordoom
Jul 28, 2012 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 H
...more
Mutasim Billah
Short, but still awfully boring. I haven't watched any of the film adaptations but I sure do hope the dialogue isn't anything like in the book. The protagonist finds himself on the run after being wrongly accused of murder, while the real culprits are also looking for him vehemently. There's a lot of running around, a lot of luck involved and always some shadowy figure looming close by. But it doesn't amount to anything much in the end. Yawn!
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278 followers
John Buchan (1st Baron Tweedsmuir) was a Scottish 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 educated at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. After a brief career in law he went to South Africa in 1902 wh
...more

Other books in the series

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