Book Review: The Bourne Identity

I remember when The Bourne Identity movie came out. My dad and I agreed that it was SO GOOD. My mom, on the other hand, was appalled. She had read the book first and claimed that the film depicted a wildly different story line. I ignored her and continued blissfully enjoying the entire Bourne film series for years, until I recently decided that I probably did need to know the “real” story.

Cain is for Charlie and Delta is for Cain. The man and the myth were finally one, images and reality fused.

The Bourne Identity (1980) p.534

I can now confirm that the film does depict a wildly different story line from the book. In fact, there are so many differences that someone could (and maybe should) write a doctoral dissertation on the thousands of creative liberties the filmmakers took in producing the (still much loved) Matt Damon-helmed movie series. While I haven’t yet read Robert Ludlum’s other two Bourne tales (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) I’m going to assume that the movie versions also deviated from the source material.

The very stark differences in the book’s storyline are apparent almost immediately. Other than the facts that both Jason Bourne characters start the story with amnesia and a body riddled with bullets and that both Bournes meet and fall in love with a woman named Marie and take large amounts of money out of a Swiss bank before heading to Paris, there’s really not much similarity. In order to let myself actually enjoy the book, I had to let go of my memories of the movie right away and surrender to a different plot, set of characters and a completely different time period.

The novel was written in 1980 and centered on post-Vietnam War, Cold War geopolitical tensions. While I am sure that the story felt extremely relevant when the book was first published, many of the plot and setting references required historical knowledge and context. When the Jason Bourne character needs to get in contact with someone, he finds a payphone, hotel lobby telephone or sends a transatlantic telegraph cable. One of the characters takes a flight on a Concorde jet (which exited airspace in the early 2000s). Another character is a switchboard operator (a job that has changed significantly from the 1980s).

The Bourne films definitely rank near the top of my favorite motion pictures and I’m pleased to say that The Bourne Identity book now similarly ranks highly in my favorite books category. I think both media forms provide compelling thrillers, as long as you don’t read/watch them in a short timeframe. The book was intelligently written and the plot was full of captivating twists and turns (600 pages worth!). In my opinion, the author did a great job casting a vision that could be seen throughout reading. Highly recommend this one for an escape when you’re itching to go back in time, cross the Atlantic or change careers vicariously through the exploits of Jason Bourne.

This book may be for you if you also like: The Bourne Identity (movie 2002), politics, James Bond franchise, Matt Damon, Taken (movie 2008), Paris, haute couture, English books that have other foreign language phrases sprinkled throughout, Zurich, international relations, New York City.


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