Book in the news: masterly biography of an economic adventurer

Book review: John Law, A Scottish Adventurer of the Eighteenth Century An elegantly written biography of the colourful Scottish gambler, financier and early economist.


Buy on Amazon

To say that John Law led a colourful life is an understatement. A gambler, financier and early economist, he advised the French on the reorganisation of their monetary system, but died a poor man after his involvement in what became known as the Mississippi Bubble. This biography by James Buchan looks at his life and career and is full of "Jacobite politics, elopements, prison breaks and court scandal", says James Kelly in The Scotsman. So "even a reader who might sigh at the thought of a book on the dismal science' will find much to savour".

Advertisement - Article continues below

Indeed, one of the flaws of the book is that the author "is curiously uninterested in the actual substance of Law's ideas on money and finance, and in the parallels between Law's experiment and the financial world of today", says Felix Martin in the FT. However, it remains a "masterly" biography. 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". It "will take its place deservedly as the standard biography".

There are times when the author's fondness for genealogy "leads him down sidetracks that serve at best to bewilder and at worst tobore", says Lucy Hughes-Hallett in the New Statesman, and the narrative sometimes "becomes tangled in a mass of extraneous anecdote". However, Buchan is "also capable of pithiness" and his wit is "delightful". Overall, this "erudite, elegantly written" book is like "a successful party" "full of interesting people, variously disgraceful or brilliant, and of compelling stories overlapped".




Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

Most Popular


These seven charts show exactly why you must own gold today

Covid-19 is accelerating many trends that were already in existence. The rising gold price is one such trend. These seven charts, says Dominic Frisby,…
3 Jun 2020

Disease, rioting and mass unemployment – so why are markets soaring?

Despite some pretty strong headwinds in the last year, America’s S&P 500 stock index is close to all-time highs. John Stepek explains why markets seem…
4 Jun 2020
EU Economy

Why a stronger euro is good news for investors

The fragile state of the eurozone has for a long time brought the threat of deflation. But the ECB’s latest moves have dampened those fears. John Step…
5 Jun 2020