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John Law

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780857053381

Price: £30

ON SALE: 6th September 2018

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Biography: General

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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.


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.
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.
I don't believe this country has a better writer to offer than James Buchan.
Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books.
One of our finest writers.
John Burnside, The Times.
Each book he writes is a discovery.
Steven Poole, Guardian.
Excellent . . . Buchan's book is both scrupulously researched and humanely curious . . . It has Jacobite politics, elopements, prisons breaks and court scandal . . . much to savour.
Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday.
A wonderful portrait of Law's Paris and Europe, of the Regent and the Jacobites. I loved it and could hardly put it down.
Philip Mansel
There's a place for a well researched, popular, comprehensive biography of John Law and Buchan's is certainly that . . . Even with the benefit of this wonderful book with its wealth of new information and masterful storytelling, it is difficult to know what to make of John Law.
Harry McGrath, Scottish Review of Books.
Erudite, elegantly-written . . . Full of interesting people, variously disgraceful or brilliant, and of compelling stories overlapped . . . Buchan is possessed of a remarkably well-furnished mind. His story is a tremendous one.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman.
In Buchan, Law has at last found a biographer who combines an expert understanding of finance, a profound knowledge of 18th-century history, and a novelist's gift for anecdote and pace. The result is an immensely valuable and enjoyable book that conjures a narrative worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson out of a deeply impressive harvest of primary archival research. It is history of the highest class, and will take its place deservedly as the standard biography of Law.
Felix Martin, Financial Times.
Law's is an extraordinary story, and this is an extraordinary book . . . Buchan writes with such wit and lucidity.
Allan Massie, Literary Review.
Buchan tells the story and portrays the man with enormous sweep and brio. He has clearly done a vast amount of research among the primary sources, yet somehow manages to combine the historian's sense of the wider picture with the epigrammatic wit of the novelist, and the antiquarian's delight in curios . . . It is a fascinating, poignant, almost heroic story, and we must thank James Buchan for giving us this masterly account of it.
Jesse Norman, Spectator.
Law's story is well and wittily told by Buchan . . . The mores of the time... are superbly depicted. The age comes alive.
David Aaronovitch, The Times.