The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations

Neal Ascherson writes:

Douglas Watt’s irresistible, clever book about the Darien Scheme, which ruined Scotland and led indirectly to the 1707 Union, introduces figures we instantly recognise. Here is the mesmerising visionary bounding from cloud to cloud with other people’s savings, and the yuppie so thrilled with early success that he persuades himself that the company’s cash is his own. Here are the grave, respected men of substance who dare not admit to one another that in financial reality they are total ninnies, unable to read profit or loss off a stallholder’s pocket calculator. All these types dance through the short, catastrophic history of the Company of Scotland, which took a nation’s money to found a colony on the Panama isthmus in 1698 and ended flat bust in 1701.

(LRB 3 January 2008)