The Pequod Review:
The Secret Agent is one of Joseph Conrad's best books, a gripping thriller involving a British citizen who doubles as a secret agent of a foreign anarcho-terrorist government. Conrad based his story on a failed 1894 attempt by a French anarchist to blow up the Royal Observatory in London, an act Conrad described later as “a blood-stained inanity of so fatuous a kind that it was impossible to fathom its origin by any reasonable or even unreasonable process of thought.” Conrad’s novel is an attempt to explore the circumstances and mindset that could lead an individual to commit such an act.
The plot details are best not revealed, but this is one of Conrad’s tightest and most focused narratives. It's a true spy novel with sharp prose and persuasive psychological profiles throughout. And it includes some of his most cynically astute political commentary, as Conrad is critical of both the radical activists (“The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds”) and the authorities (who encourage the radicals in the hope that their actions will lead to a crack down on civil liberties).