The Bourne Identity

By Robert Ludlum,

Book cover of The Bourne Identity

Book description

Jason Bourne is back in the forthcoming major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander. Go back to where it all began for Bourne in his first adventure - The Bourne Identity

He was dragged from the sea, his body riddled with bullets. There are a few clues: a…

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Why read it?

13 authors picked The Bourne Identity as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Thanks to Hollywood adaptations and sometimes a greedy publisher, a great series can diminish as time passes. But that doesn’t change how cool the original was.

I love the setup of a man waking on a sailing vessel with no memory, only to discover his identity as super espionage agent. The mystery of the scenario and the intrigue as Bourne unravels his own personhood was so well done in this first book (and the first film was an excellent adaptation), and it is worth revisiting.

This book was instrumental in reviving the one-man-against the odds/an entire government thriller.

It is a non-pretentious page turner that made for one hell of a film adaptation. While the narrative is not necessarily overtly comedic, it does own its outlandishness in a nuanced way from the first few chapters that makes for a very subtle light-heartedness when compared to espionage novels that are darker in tone.

This is the book that started me on a new path so how could I not recommend it?

I met Ludlum in 1980 through our shared agent. We hit it off immediately. Both The Bourne Identity and my book were on the NY Times Bestseller list together. He wanted to meet me. He’d read The Ninja and loved it.

We spent an entire evening discussing the traits our respective protagonists shared, how much of ourselves we’d put into them. We also discussed our ideas of how to write thrillers that thrilled as many readers as possible.

Years later, after Ludlum…

This book, like the film, is action-packed from the beginning. As a spy thriller, it’s got it all. An operative, a missing identity, nefarious purposes, and deep tragedy. Also a hero that comes out of it all, but at a great cost. Ludlum builds a world that makes one wonder if this deep level of deceit truly happens within the government and exposes the dark underbelly of the beast. 

This spy thriller has it all: secret organizations, evil terrorist hit men, and a Canadian love interest (I’m Canadian and at the time the book came out we were rare in blockbuster fiction, and I’ll never forgive the movie adaptations for making Marie German). Jason Bourne wakes up from a boat explosion with no idea who he is and then begins hunting the people who are in turn trying to kill him, while trying to uncover clues to his past. Jason is torn as he finds more and more evidence that he might be an assassin responsible for several high-profile…

From Katrina's list on characters who don’t trust themselves.

I think of Ludlum as the master of page-turner suspense at its simplest. This thriller spawned a franchise that’s still going strong after more than four decades, an accomplishment I greatly respect.

While Jason Bourne is not an ordinary man, he is seriously handicapped by total amnesia. This clever invention of vulnerability taught me something important as a writer—be inventive, color outside the lines, keep the reader guessing, and keep the writing sharp!

For me, The Bourne Identity is the best study guide for writing thrillers, and an exciting ride as a reader.

Robert Ludlum is a master of spy craft.

I enjoy reading his Jason Bourne series as it does an excellent job of traversing story and character arcs. Bourne, is a spy who lost his memory and is fighting to piece together his very existence. The closer he gets, the more dangerous the stakes. 

Ludlum, in this book and throughout the series, feeds the Bourne and the reader little triumphs matched with losses and setbacks as Bourne closes in on the truth and his identity.

I enjoyed The Bourne Identity as I felt the desperation, confusion, and at times, anger as…

From Seth's list on thrillers that kick terrorist butt.

Ludlum used amnesia as the primary conceit of the story. The revelation of the protagonist’s numerous surprising skills provides interesting clues, enabling both him and the reader to gradually solve the mystery of his origin. While reading, I found myself in a constant state of anticipation about the next new thing the protagonist will discover about himself and whether he will learn who he really is.  

From F.F.'s list on defining the thriller genre.

So unlike the movie, and so much better. Yes, it’s an older novel, but the previous entry isn’t that fresh either. I love how broken Bourne is, how the stuff he went through virtually destroyed the person he was before he became Bourne, but also the persona he had created for himself. His agony gushes from the page, and it’s a wonder to behold. No James Bond, no gentleman spy, just a broken man trying to put the shards of his life back into some resemblance of normalcy.

From Ulff's list on to help deconstruct tropes.

Jason Bourne is the second spy thriller character that inspired my creation of Michael Dolan. Though there are some similarities, Jack Ryan and Bourne are actually quite different. Unlike Ryan, Bourne possesses all the field skills necessary to succeed and again, unlike Ryan, he is challenged with considerable deficits in understanding himself—where he is from, how he became who he is, and the reasons behind it all. It is through this acute, internecine struggle, the cryptic complexity of the protagonist, that Ludlum succeeded with a character that was and remains wildly popular within the spy thriller world. My shaping of…

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