James Buchan

Hardback - Royal - 496pp - £25.00 - 06/09/2018 - 9780857053381

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 a hundred days, Law was the most powerful man in France after the Regent, the Duke of Orléans.

For France, brought to the brink by the wars and extravagances of the Sun King, Louis XIV, Law's financial innovations were a lifeline, but had for consequence a stock-market boom across Europe that he was unable to control. The Mississippi Bubble, as it became known, plunged France into a severe economic depression, laying the groundwork for revolution.

Over the centuries, John Law has been portrayed as a crook, a rake and an economist of modern character. James Buchan shows Law was none of those but a powerful mind in thrall to a vision of public prosperity that overrode all ties to country, property or happiness.

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, Buchan resurrects Law's vagabond career.

The result is a portrait of one of the most astonishing lives ever lived.

Elise Williams