Thirty years ago, a British newspaper took an unscientific survey of current and former intelligence agents, asking them which fictional work best captured the realities of their profession. Would it be John Le CarrÃ©, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum? To the amazement of most readers, the book that won easily was G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908.
This was so surprising because of the book’s early date, but also its powerful mystical and Christian content: Chesterton subtitled it “a nightmare.” But perhaps the choice was not so startling. Looking at the problems Western intelligence agencies confront fighting terrorism today, Chesterton’s fantasy looks more relevant than ever, and more like a practical how-to guide.