A Scottish Adventurer of the Eighteenth Century
By James Buchan
The mesmerising story of the eighteenth-century financier of genius who rose from humble Scottish origins to control of the purse-strings of the most powerful nation in Europe
John Law of Lauriston blazed like a meteor over Europe and America in the early eighteenth century before falling to earth.
At the summit of his reputation in 1720, a period lasting just over one hundred days, Law was the most powerful man in France after the Regent, the Duke of Orléans. He was also the richest private citizen in Europe.
For France, brought to the brink by the wars and extravagances of the Sun King, Louis XIV, the Scotsman's financial innovations were a lifeline, but had for consequence a stock-market boom that came spectacularly to grief. The Mississippi Bubble, as it came to be known, left in France a fear of financial modernity that crippled her in her rivalry with Great Britain.
Over the centuries, John Law has been portrayed as a crook, a rake and a madman. James Buchan shows Law was none of those but a powerful mind in pursuit of a vision of public prosperity that overrode all ties to country, property or happiness. Many of his ideas are now the plainest orthodoxy.
Using Law's letters and writings, neglected family papers in Scotland and English county towns, bank ledgers in Genoa and Holland, notarial records and secret police reports in France and Venice, as well as the archive of the Jacobite court in exile, James Buchan resurrects Law's vagabond career
The result is a glimpse of one of the most astonishing lives ever lived.
James Buchan is the author of several novels, including A Parish of Rich Women, which won the 1984 Whitbread Book of the Year award, and Heart's Journey in Winter which won the Guardian prize. He is also an outstanding literary critic and non-fiction writer whose works include a biography of Adam Smith, Frozen Desire: An Enquiry into the Meaning of Money and Captial of the Mind.
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- Publication date:
06 Sep 2018
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One of our finest writers. — John Burnside, The Times.
I don't believe this country has a better writer to offer than James Buchan. — Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books.
An utterly compelling and captivating work . . . he brings a natural storyteller's relish to his subject — Irvine Welsh, Guardian, on The Capital of the Mind.
Mr Buchan has a clear writing style, a light touch and a irreverent sense of humour . . . he makes difficult subjects accessible and, sometimes, poetic. — Economist.
In Mr. Buchan's able hands, Smith and his words come across as they should, in all their lucidity and elegance. — William Grimes, New York Times, on Adam Smith: and the Pursuit of Perfect Liberty.
James Buchan's elegant prose sparkles on the page. — New Statesman.
Each book he writes is a discovery. — Steven Poole, Guardian.