The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad (1907)

A century before anyone would associate terrorism with Islam, Conrad both mocks and captures the gravity of the London anarchist movement and their fictitious plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory.  Mr. Verloc and his team of overweight, bumbling radicals spend a lot of time talking big about the evils of capitalism but prove disastrously incompetent when it comes time to plant the bomb.  Though the prose has its moments of humor and pathos, Conrad’s stuff hasn’t aged well and can make for long slogs through dense paragraphs.  Worth it, however, for its cynical twists on both capitalism and anarchy.


Where I Got It

The longest-standing book in my pile (nearly 4 and a half years), I bought this hardcover copy at a town festival book sale along with The Epic of Gilgamesh and some others.  Part of a 1960s collection of Conrad’s works, it still had the dust jacket, with a monocle print of Conrad himself on the back cover.

Despite Conrad’s being Polish, this pic is the most British thing I’ve ever seen.

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