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.

912-John-Law-150

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".

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".

Recommended

My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes
Investment strategy

My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes

John Stepek recommends some of his favourite financial books for you to read as lockdowns continue, including a surprisingly gripping biography of the…
31 Dec 2020
Five books to put on your Christmas list
Investment strategy

Five books to put on your Christmas list

Even if they’ve done nothing else, lockdowns – in whatever guise – have given us plenty of time to read. Merryn Somerset Webb picks five books to enjo…
7 Dec 2020
Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up
Books

Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up

Whether you’re going on a staycation (or even an actual holiday) or remaining holed up at home. Merryn Somerset Webb has four perfect books to educate…
6 Jul 2020

Most Popular

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it
Bitcoin

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it

The cryptocurrency’s price has soared far beyond its fundamentals, says Matthew Partridge. Here, he looks at how to short bitcoin.
12 Apr 2021
What does the Coinbase listing mean for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?
Bitcoin

What does the Coinbase listing mean for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?

As the bitcoin price hit new highs, the world's biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, listed on the stockmarket. John Stepek looks at what that m…
15 Apr 2021
Properties for sale for around £400,000
Houses for sale

Properties for sale for around £400,000

From a converted church in Banffshire with views towards the Cairngorms National Park, to a period property in the Georgian market town of Beverley, e…
2 Apr 2021