Around the time of Casino Royale I read a fascinating little book called The Man Who Saved Britain, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in James Bond and/or the history of England. Not just an inquiry into who Ian Fleming was and what forces positioned him to create his astonishingly successful little spy novels; not just a howlingly funny memoir of the author's own fevered adolescent Bond obsession; but a comprehensive analysis of the cultural and historical context of post-WWII England that Bond fits into.
Put simply, 1950's England was in the grip of an existential crisis. Their long period of world dominance was coming to a swift, shocking end, their military might was exhausted and their economy was terrifyingly circling the drain. Sound familiar?
Simon Winder argues that Fleming's creation caught on because it created a persuasive alternate reality, a secret unseen world in which the British still dominated the course of world events, when in reality they increasingly found themselves without even a seat at the table. He further argues that Bond gave the British a vessel in which to keep their sense of national identity out of disgrace as they slogged through the tough times and eventually rebounded.
Reading this history of the fall of another recent world empire gave me a few gut-churning moments, I don't mind telling you. But it goes to show why the Bond of Casino and Quantum is the Bond for our time, aside from the brutality and the more contemporary subject matter. Like his post-9/11 American counterpart, Jack Bauer, he offers us a reassuring suggestion that there is something inherently worthwhile in the Western character; a courageous, resourceful spark that will somehow see us through in a world that no longer makes sense. It might be the purest bullshit, but it might be all we've got to go on right now.