Books by James Buchan

DAYS OF GOD by James Buchan
Released: Oct. 15, 2013

"A solid, accessible look at the making of modern Iran."
British novelist and journalist Buchan (The Authentic Adam Smith, 2006, etc.) revisits the Iranian revolution for a clarification of the historical record. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 28, 2003

"A readable companion to Arthur Herman's like-minded How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001)."
A lively portrait of the city once called the "Athens of the north"—and for good reason. Read full book review >
FROZEN DESIRE by James Buchan
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

A discursive and idiosyncratic appreciation of currency, from British novelist and former Financial Times correspondent Buchan (High Latitudes, 1996, etc.), who, the subtitle notwithstanding, never manages to construe its many-splendored meanings. Drawing on a wealth of sources, the author offers hit-or-miss audits of the mediums of exchange humankind has used and abused down through the years. Characterizing money as ``incarnate desire'' (in the sense that takes individual wishes and transmits them to the wider world), he compares the dichotomous teachings of Jesus with those of Muslim prophets, who viewed the religious and socioeconomic spheres as an indivisible whole. Buchan goes on to assess the varied implications of coinage, the just-price construct of medieval theologians, the invention of double-entry bookkeeping by Fra Luca Pacioli, Europe's lust for precious metals in the Age of Discovery, and the emergence of bank notes (which undermined the sovereignty of monarchs). Covered as well are the fiscal discipline a gold standard imposes on spendthrift governments, the sundry roles played by money in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the latter-day ascendancy of creditors (including junk-bond king Michael Milken) over borrowers, and capital as the sine qua non of belligerencies ranging from revolutions through wars of conquest. At the close, however, Buchan abruptly changes course. In the stated hope that the Age of Money (like the Age of Faith before it) will soon draw to an end, he exits with an impassioned albeit unsubstantiated diatribe indicting money as the principal cause of environmental destruction, global warming, overdevelopment, perpetual conflict, and other ills to which modern civilization is heir. These often murky essays will add precious little to anyone's understanding of what makes the world go around. Read full book review >
HIGH LATITUDES by James Buchan
Released: Nov. 21, 1996

Accumulating prizes and accolades for two previous novels in his native Britain, Buchan (A Parish of Rich Women, 1985; The Golden Plough, 1995) has yet to find similar attention here, and this tale of frustrated romance and bad business in Thatcherland will help his case only slightly. It's 1987, and the beautiful and eminently capable Jane Haddon is the queen of undergarments, having rescued yet another failing British industry from oblivion by dint of her own drive and acumen. But her miracle-working touch is about to suffer its severest test— in persuading the women who work in an aging bra-factory outside Glasgow to exchange part of their wages for company shares or face losing their jobs. Meanwhile, Jane's personal life, on ice since she divorced her aloof aristocrat husband years before, shows little evidence of thawing, since she still loves the cad; but when he's marooned on a glacier in Antarctica (where he's flown to give himself something to do), he rediscovers his love for her, saves himself, and returns to England, only to find that he faces financial ruin. As a ``Name'' at Lloyd's, he bears the brunt of insurance reversals; one such event leaves him nearly bankrupt, whereupon his money-loving wife leaves him. Jane can't help him much because her bra ladies have gone on strike just as details of her own sordid past—heroin addiction, working-class origins, etc.- -turn her from a media darling into a pariah without peer. Nevertheless, she and her lord manage to offer each other some consolation, eventually finding their way back to his favorite spot on earth (the glacier), although by that time he's just a corpse wrapped in a parachute. To be sure, the sordid details of late-'80s convulsive capitalism are used here to form a precise, withering critique of Thatcher's England. But this dissection of British corporate life and its practitioners leaves scant room for more human touches that would make something other than icily insightful. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1995

British journalist Buchan follows up his Whitbread Prize- winning A Parish of Rich Women (1985) with a knowledgeable but overly talky and terminally informative tale of sex, spies, and missile brinkmanship in the last years of the Cold War. Richard Fisher is a spy; Polina Mertz is a spy. He works for the Brits in West Germany in 1983; she works for the Americans. He's trying to find out who killed Professor Lightner, the brains and conscience of the German left; she's trying to work through back channels to ensure nuclear missile parity as the US and USSR prepare to deploy their intermediate-range weapons in Europe. He gets her to sleep with him and, as her lover, becomes privy to the Golden Plough initiative—a plan her team is proposing as a means of postponing the missile crisis and a corrective to the hopelessly simplistic Reagan agenda. He also learns, after a Red Army faction bombs her house, that she killed Lightner and is now using him, Richard, for his contacts on the German left. He's smitten with her anyway and dreams of their life together in domestic bliss—despite the inconvenient fact that she has a husband. When the Golden Plough falls apart, however, both are suspected of being double agents, captured, and interrogated almost to death, then released to their separate destinies, with Richard left to contemplate what might have been had love conquered all. The rest, as they say, is history. More Cold War commentary than plot here, along with aloof characters who do little and pontificate much, virtually chatting one another into submission. Read full book review >