Deighton, Len. Billion Dollar Brain

Billion Dollar Brain - Book Cover

Billion Dollar Brain is a novel written by Len Deighton and printed in 1966. It is a novel written at the time of the cold war and follows a similar theme and format to spy novels of that era. It was also the basis of the 1967 film of the same name directed by Ken Russell with the lead role played by Michael Cain.

During the time when relations between US and Russia were at an all time low, espionage novels became popular and captured the imagination of the readers.

The central theme of the story involves a Texan millionaire who starts a fanatical campaign to destroy Communism. As these things go, these crazy types always feel that they need a big powerful computer to achieve their objectives, and in this case, it was The Brain. Even though it would have been made of valves -- consisting of nothing more than a box with lights -- calling it a brain was more interesting to the reader.

As I read this novel, it transpired that the purpose of the brain was to provide instructions to a worldwide network of agents. It did that by printing out a ticker tape! Hence, this brain turned out to be nothing more than the modern equivalent of a pager.

The story has a very similar feel to Bond novels and the lead character Liam Dempsey has to travel to different locations around the world such as Helsinki, Leningrad, Riga, New York, San Antonio, and Texas... He also comes across some stereotypical characters such as Signe Laine, a sort of Finnish Lolita, General Midwinter a megalomaniac who builds the computer, Harvey Newbegin a neurotic American agent, and Colonel Stok a Soviet spy.

Deighton uses wry humour in this book, which in the 60s considered new, but today, you would not notice it. This was probably the earliest beginnings of such humour, used by spy agents, which became the norm.

Len Deighton

Book Cover

The graphics on the dust jacket of this book was designed by Michael Alan Charlton, and shows a paper ticker tape, typically used in early 60s computers. This edition also contains an Automath Statement printout on the inside back and front boards, which is interesting for a computer programmer.

I liked the concept of the story and the idea that you could use 60s electronic engineering to create a computer powerful enough to think. However, I thought the story lacked focus, and the dialog lacked pace, which was the mistake the film made as well.


TitleBillion Dollar Brain
AuthorLen Deighton
PublisherThe Companion Book Club
ISBN Numbernone
PrintersOdhams Watford Limited
Last Page Number271
Cover Price5 Shillings and 6 pence
AvailabilityAmazon and all good online bookstores