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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,145 ratings  ·  222 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.
Paperback, 326 pages
Published July 6th 2000 by Vintage Classics (first published January 1st 1927)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  2,145 ratings  ·  222 reviews

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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
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
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. ...more
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.
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
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 ...more
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy, classic
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 ...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,
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, spies, war, ww1
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 ...more
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 ...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.
DeAnna Knippling
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Brtitish writer becomes a spy during World War I. Semi-autobiographical.

I really liked this. Why is it that I'm drawn to the most mundane spy stories possible? This is spying at its most dull, ordinary, and gut-wrenchingly terrible. The moment he realizes he's been used to get a man he likes sent to a firing squad was probably the most memorable for me. Recommend for le Carre fans.
Portia S
Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: w-s-maugham
This is a collection of short stories ( can be treated as a collection of short stories, except there are some repeated characters, so you can't read them out of order) relaying the fictionalised conquests of W. Somerset Maugham during WW1 where he was taking in under the service of the British Secret Service.

Sounds rather exciting doesn't it? It is.

The different tales take you on a journey of the playwright only known as Ashenden Somerville ( it is insinuated that this is not his real name)
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group
W. Somerset Maugham worked for the security services and this collection of anecdotes is based on his experiences. He probably made a good spy, he was intelligent and observant, with a gift for reading people. The everyday business of spying is not shown as glamorous however, much of it is petty, rather dull and apparently pointless. The book is none of those things.
There are a few chapters that give some background information and several cases, which take a few chapters. Not all the cases are
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
During the First World War, Maugham with his reputation of being a relatively known writer was sent by British Intelligence to Switzerland for a series of assignments. Ashenden, though cited as a work of fiction is almost Maugham's memoirs of that period. In his inimitable style laced with razor sharp observations, the stories in this collection somehow end up focusing less on the finer aspects of espionage and more on Maugham's favourite topic - the contradictions of human nature.

To think that
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
An espionage spy thriller, or a non-thriller, detailing the everyday life and absurdities of a British Agent in World War 1. Maugham used his real life experiences to write a series of short interconnecting stories, that make up Ashenden. Some of them are more captivating than others and part of the fun for me was trying to guess which aspects were based on true events and which parts were the fabrication. This was a great start to a completely new author to me and though I don't think it gives ...more
H. P. Reed
Mr Maugham's spy Ashenden is a complete human, with all the English prejudices and civilities of his time, the 1920s, and class, upper middle. His desire for a more interesting life than he's had leads him to accept spymaster R.'s offer of employment as the government's information messenger. He becomes a spymaster on a lower level and handles both friendly agents and enemies with aplomb. Maugham presents Ashenden's adventures in chapters much like short stories, which have the benefit of ...more
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading-for-uni
Ashenden is a collection of short stories inspired by Maugham's work as a spy during WWI. Even though it differs greatly from what you would expect of an Espionage novel I enjoyed it. Most of the action is quiet scheming, travelling and persuading. Ashenden himself is a very fascinating character. He differs from short story to short story, can be very gentle and forgiven and incredibly cold. His relationships to women caught my eye in particular. He can be very harsh and sexist at times (this ...more
Helen Foster
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
One recent critic included Ashenden in his (probably idiosyncratic) list of the "10 best spy novels." Like David Cornwell/John le Carre in the Cold War, Maugham, already a writer of note (he published Of Human Bondage in 1915, at age 41), spent time in the British Secret Service in World War I. The character Ashenden, loose on the Continent in various cities and hotels, feels autobiographical, and moreover makes the reader want to ask him to dinner so he'll tell more stories. His voice is ...more
Hezekiah Brown
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is the book that started the spy genre. Written by W. Somerset Maugham, who actually was a spy in WWII, fictionalized some of his own adventures and recorded them in this book. Although Ashenden is not an assassin like his fictional son James Bond (Ian Fleming got the idea for Agent 007 from this book) he is still an astute judge of human character and action and tries to fight for justice. Another great thing about this book is that it does not contain many of the content issues that ...more
In the preface of this book, author W. Somerset Maugham asserts that up until World War II Ashenden was used as a kind of textbook for employees entering the British Intelligence Department, and apparently it was the precursor to all other books in the secret-agent genre. But not having ever read any of those books, I cannot speak to whether I noticed any similarities.
I enjoyed this book, which is actually more of a collection of stories that an actual novel. I always enjoyed Maugham's writing,
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Bright Young Things: Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham (2014 Reading Challenge) 41 40 May 22, 2017 11:05AM  

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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
“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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