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3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,632 ratings  ·  281 reviews
A celebrated writer by the time the war broke out in 1914, Maugham had the perfect cover for living in Switzerland. Multilingual and knowledgeable about many European countries, he was dispatched by the Secret Service to Lucerne - under the guise of completing a play. An assignment whose danger and drama appealed both to his sense of romance and of the ridiculous.
A collec
Paperback, 326 pages
Published July 6th 2000 by Vintage Classics (first published January 1st 1927)
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Manray9 Childers' "The Riddle of the Sands" precedes the others mentioned by quite a few years. I consider it the first true spy novel.…moreChilders' "The Riddle of the Sands" precedes the others mentioned by quite a few years. I consider it the first true spy novel.(less)

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Bill Kerwin
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it

Somerset Maugham's Ashenden: Or the British Agent (1927) is the first spy novel written by someone who actually worked for an intelligence agency. It is also the work of a writer who had the knack for creating a vivid character in few words, and then allowing that character to reveal his story—and usually more of himself than he would wish—to the attentive reader. Maugham—both in this book and in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of his short stories—was a great influence on spy novelists in general a
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating, and delightful, book is often regarded as the first spy story and a precursor to Smiley and James Bond. Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s real life experience working for the Secret Service in WWI, this is a collection of linked stories about his fictional alter ego Ashenden. Like Maugham, Ashenden is an author; approached by a middle-aged Colonel (later known as ‘R’) at a party in London, shortly after the outbreak of the first world war. He suggests that, as Ashenden speaks seve ...more
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂

"I gather from what you have not said that he is an unmitigated scoundrel."

R. smiled with his pale blue eyes.

"I don't know that I'd go quite so far as that. He hasn't had the value of a public-school education. His ideas of playing the game aren't quite the same as yours and mine. I don't know that I would leave a gold cigarette-case about when he was in the neighbourhood, but if he had lost money to you at poker and he had pinched your cigarette-case, he would immediately pawn it to pay
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

What a gem this is! Maugham, who served in the British secret service during World War I, cleverly combines autobiography and satire in these interconnected tales of European espionage. Crisp prose, memorable (if somewhat exaggerated) characters, humour, poignancy and a subtle dig at modernist fiction make this book an absolute delight. Knowing that Ashenden inspired the creation of fictional spies such as James Bond is an added bonus, even though Ashenden and Bond could not be more different as
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As a spy for the UK during WW1, MOM was based in Geneva. His cover - as a writer - was perfect and resulted some years later in this marvelous "memoir," also published as Vol 3 of his Collected Stories. In 1915 he was spying while writing a comedy, "Caroline," produced in London in 1916. His duo efforts are described herewith. Middle-brows like to put MOM down. Once you start reading him, you cant put him down. ...more
This book consists of a handful of interconnected short stories about a British intelligence officer, Ashenden. The stories are based on Maugham’s own experiences as an intelligence agent stationed in Switzerland working for the Allies during the First World War and then in St. Petersburg as an undercover agent with Kerensky in power and the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution soon to take place. The stories are set in Geneva, Basel, Lausanne and Lucerne, Switzerland, Thonon, France and St. Peters ...more
Tim Pendry
Ashenden is a thinly disguised memoire of Maugham's own period in wartime (1914-1918) secret service work. For all his customary detachment, he is very aware of and interested in the moral issues involved in such work.

Maugham cannot write badly but this book is still (structurally) an imperfectly strung together group of short stories and novellas. It can also be rather self-consciously literary at times.

Famous as a precursor of Fleming's Bond and influencing an early Hitchcock film, it is rath
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was very impressed by this book. It was the first book I read by W. Somerset Maugham. Maugham's beautiful writing evokes the life of a spy and is based on his own spying experiences during World War 1.

Through a series of interrelated short stories the reader gains an appreciation of Maugham's spying experiences. He is insightful about those he meets, their motivations, and the extent to which they might be friend or foe.

In the course of these stories, Maugham's protagonist Ashenden (a self p
Maugham's Ashenden is probably my favorite spy character. I found him more human than Le Carre's Smiley. In fact, I didn't care for any of Le Carre--too boring. I know that that's what spycraft is really like–-boredom dominated by anxious fear. I can't think of a worse life.

Maugham's Ashenden has class; although he is not a Bond-type like Ian Fleming's character. Ashenden is more like Maugham himself--just "there" and ready to serve, bristling with a clear head, dedication, and style--loyal to h
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spy-fiction
W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent is an example of one of my favourite genres, the early 20th century espionage tale. While spy stories set during World War 2 and during the Cold War have their charms I find the earlier tales set during the First Word War or in the years leading up to that war much more appealing.

Ashenden, or the British Agent, first published in 1928, is a series of linked stories relating the adventures of a writer of comic plays who is recruited into Britis
Nancy Oakes
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a collection of linked short stories rather than a novel, based on Maugham's own time as a spy during the First World War. Unfortunately the collection is unevenly written, sometimes brilliant but sometimes boring, and there's a lot of humour along the way which just isn't funny - to me, anyway.

I should say in fairness that I do really like a couple of the stories, 'Behind the Scenes', which paints a vivid picture of sexual obsession, and and the poignant last tale in the collection, 'Mr
Junaid Taj
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was certainly a disappointment.This book was written probably way back in 1927 and it still echoes the colonial British supremacist mindset of the author.The collection has no flow and most stories end abruptly.Although,i must admit that I liked some of the stories-especially the vivid and poignant descriptions of love and doomed passion.
All in all,I would say this book is passable.I haven't read any other books by Maugham but I have heard amazing reviews about The Painted Veil.
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, fiction
R gave his wrist-watch a glance."He's known as the Hairless Mexican."
"Because he's hairless and Mexican."
"The explanation seems perfectly satisfactory," said Ashenden.
I have to admit, Maugham's writing is pithy! In fact, it is quite good. In this eclectic collection of interrelated stories based on the author's work in the British intelligence services of WWI, Maugham paints little sketches of the sometimes comic, sometimes horrific workaday details of a life in espionage.

One particularly
Dillwynia Peter
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ashenden has an important place in modern Mythology. This book, along with the Gadfly, are the two biggest influences on Fleming’s James Bond. Here we have the sophisticated multi-lingual Englishman of good breeding fighting those Axis spies during the First World War. He knows how to play bridge, to mix in excellent society and to hold his own. Out of the social scene he uses his cover as a playwright to interact with his street runners – the poor and down at heel.
Maugham was a spy during this
3.5 stars

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Somerset Maugham was writing and living the life of the spy long before Ian Fleming or John Le Carré. His introduction to this novel lets the reader know that it is based on his own experiences, but shaped into a decent story arc, something that the author found lacking in real life.

If, as in another review, I compare Fleming to boxing and Le Carré to chess, then I would say that Maugham is more like solitaire. Much quieter and self-contained. He’s maybe fl
Dave Morris
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
The flipside of the 007 story. Just as they say the real life of a policeman is about slogging away at a case, not being a lucky maverick, so Ashenden's life as a secret agent is mostly taken up with watching his friends and foes and trying to tell one from the other. Action, when it comes, is unexpected and feels as though taken from life. There are no rooftop chases or gun battles here, but rather touching character studies of the people who live and die in the world of espionage. ...more
When Ashenden was on a mission in Switzerland, he took a walk through the countryside and said this poetic description - 'The view was of course spectacular, but it captured you; it was like a piece of music that was obvious and meretricious, but for the moment shattered your self-control.' ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Honestly, this was not what I expected, but that's not a bad thing. To me, "British Intelligence Service" indicated Maugham being a spy, clandestine service, CIA in US parlance. And perhaps that's exactly what he was. There is the allusion of cloak and dagger work here, but that really is only the setting rather than the purpose of these sixteen inter-linked stories. In his preface, Maugham says
Fact is a poor story-teller. It starts a story at haphazard, generally long before the beginning, ram
Ashenden is a writer operating as a secret agent during WWI. He receives his instructions from his boss, R., and travels around Europe to carry out his assignments. These are the subject of this collection of stories, based on Maugham's own experiences, and show the different aspects of the espionage world. Some of the stories show its absurdity - mistaken identities, chance encounters - while others are more poignant and moving.

Ashenden is quite a passive figure, and often the stories concentra
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, spy
The more I read Somerset Maugham, the more I enjoy his writing. This book is based on his life as a spy for the British during WWI. It is basically a series of vignettes, with Ashenden involved in a number of incidents for the Secret Service. He is based in Switzerland, gathering information for the British, working with a core of spies who pass their observations on to him. Ashenden travels within Europe based on whatever task R. assigns to him and at the end goes to Russia to try and prevent r ...more
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Precursor to James Bond, The Gentleman Spy

Somerset Maugham borrows heavily from his WW1 experiences as a spy based in Switzerland to spin this series of tales about his fictional alter-ego, Ashenden. The tales go beyond the usual cloak and dagger stuff to pry into the empty and deceptive lives of the characters, and it makes one wonder whether these spy games ever advanced the lives of their players or the fates of nations that set them in motion. Everyone in Geneva is a spy of some sort – i
Shawn Callon
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
First published in 1928 this is a collection of episodes in the life of a fictional spy Ashenden, modelled according to some critics on Maugham himself who was a British spy during WW1. The book is written in a style that is so overblown and self-important that at times it veers towards the ironic but if Oscar Wilde is the epitome of irony then Maugham's novella pales in comparison.
Ashenden himself is a strange guy - educated, apparently wealthy, unmarried, realistic but at times has characteris
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Because this is a WW1 spy story, I have shelved it under thriller-suspense but it is not actually either thrilling nor suspenseful. Ashenden, like Maugham himself, is a writer drafted into the Secret Service but his job is more one of observation than of danger or action. As Ashenden says:

"Being no more than a tiny rivet in a vast and complicated machine, he never had the advantage of seeing a completed action. He was concerned with the beginning or the end of it, perhaps, or with some incident
Apr 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1920s, war, ww1, spies
If you like to seep into a book while you’re soaking in the tub, I think you’ll find that W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden (1927) mixes well with suds and hot water. Based on his experiences as a spy during the First World War, this collection of gritty stories shows Maugham as a connoisseur of odd human temperament. The book is Maugham’s tour through a grungy world of assassins, traitors, whores, bores, contortionists, conceited nitwits, passionate revolutionaries, and other semi-savory types tha ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very early spy novel based on Maugham's own experiences spying for the British during World War I. Espionage is presented as something like a game of cricket: one respects a well-played manoeuvre, even if it's by the other team. This book was supposedly one of the main inspirations for the James Bond stories, where that theme continues to some extent.

I love the cover of my edition (Vintage), and I was much heartened by the MC Ashenden saying he reread with pleasure Rousseau's Confessions, whil
Very clever literary spy tale, built up out of shorter pieces and nominally drawn from stories Maugham heard or experienced during his own time with the British secret service during the Great War. Not all the tales are about espionage per se--- Maugham stops to spin out a long confessional story about a British diplomat's long-ago affair with a cabaret dancer and to sketch in the hapless and doomed attempt of a moneyed suburban American businessman trying to do business in Petrograd on the eve ...more
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
Although short on explosions and shoot-outs, this is old-school espionage, with Maugham writing the rules of the genre out of his own experience. He was himself sent to Switzerland under the guise of finishing a play as an agent of espionage, on the basis of his knowledge of a few European languages and some sort of moral sense. Cultivating sources, gathering information is the essence of the spy's lot: menace and blackmail his tools of enforcement. More fascinating than exhilarating, the narrat ...more
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
This is actually the first thing I've ever read by Maugham and I enjoyed it immensely. Maugham manages to tell a story with economy that Hemingway might appreciate, but without having to resort to proving how macho he is at the same time, a flaw that many crisply brief writers fall into often. ...more
Laurence Giliotti
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable read. Several reviewers expressed a degree of displeasure that this is a grouping of short stories, vignettes, and not a coherent novel. I tend to disagree. Different "missions" yes but collectively a coherent glimpse into the life of an intelligence operative.
That there is no ultimate resolution to the information gathering is a given in this profession. The job is to conduct the mission and pass along the results. What headquarters makes of the facts is not the responsibility
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William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874. He spoke French even before he spoke a word of English, a fact to which some critics attribute the purity of his style.

His parents died early and, after an unhappy boyhood, which he recorded poignantly in Of Human Bondage, Maugham became a qualified physician. But writing was his true vocation. For ten years before his first success, he almost l

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“Mr Harrington was a bore. He exasperated Ashenden, and enraged him; he got on his nerves, and drove him to frenzy. But Ashenden did not dislike him. His self-satisfaction was enormous but so ingenuous that you could not resent it; his conceit was so childlike that you could only smile at it.” 3 likes
“How much easier life would be if people were all black or all white and how much simpler it would be to act in regard to them!” 2 likes
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