Arriving on a tidal wave of critical praise for Bond’s latest cinematic outing Taschen have published an authoritative and deeply engrossing look back at the complicated and captivating story of James Bond on the big screen. From the gestation of Dr No. to the final frame of Skyfall The James Bond Archives is a must for 007 fanatics.

Producers and custodians of the James Bond legacy Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli strike the right tone in the Preface, although the reverence and celebration currently swirling around Bond and his cinematic fiftieth anniversary is pleasingly kept at bay from here on in. Looking back across the twenty-two films (the Skyfall chapter was wisely omitted from my review copy) the interviewees paint a candid picture of translating Ian Fleming’s work to the big screen. Triumph and disaster are stacked up against one another, and the troubling times endured, on and off screen, by the production team make for a striking history of, not only the Bond series, but of Hollywood and action cinema.

Taking each film in turn, following an excellent interview Ian Fleming conducted with Playboy magazine, actors, directors, producers and other crew members give their take each production and a picture forms quickly of a team of creative individuals determined to make the best films they can, often fighting with their own success. Paul Duncan has done a remarkable job compiling and collecting the statements and has artfully mined the archives to give the right mix of entertainment and illumination.

Where the book is strongest is the beginning and the end of each chapter with the producers and actors talking of the expectations on them, how they are finding their footing on the shifting sands of cultural and societal concerns, and their hopes for the next film. Roger Moore talks frankly about his aging secret agent bedding girls half his age, Wilson talks about the violence of the films matching the popular excesses of action movies in the 80s and how the recurring characters changed and how the actors changed with them, only to be replaced.

The chapter of Licence to Kill (and in fact the whole saga of Timothy Dalton) makes for fascinating reading. Telling how Dalton’s take on Bond helped to resurrect the character from parody only to fall foul of an undetermined production process and a rapid rethinking of the tone and violence inherent in the stories he lead, there is a philosophical touch to the views made in hindsight. The best way to approach this book is to see it as five tales of five separate Bonds. Reading the casting process and the thoughts behind each new actor’s suitability aligns itself neatly with the recurring desire to reshape Bond, in form and in tone. It comes across plainly that once an actor is cast that the tone is set for the rest of their tenure, with little room for manoeuvre. It’s an absorbing history of one of the longest-running character in cinema.

It’s costly, at £135 you’ll need deep pockets to go along with your love for Ian Fleming’s secret agent but you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic commentary, with no punches pulled, on each of the films. The book is richly illustrated with hundreds of production stills and posters, as well as the telegrams and letters which flew around the productions. Oddly the method of collating the interviews jars a little as each interviewee gives a portion of the story, sometimes one sentence at a time, and it doesn’t flow as well as it might. However I can’t imagine another way to tell the stories from the perspectives of so many necessary people, so it’s a minor quibble.

In short this is an essential, if costly, purchase, a fine tribute to the man so good he names himself twice.

The James Bond Archives is out now, for more information click here.