James Buchan

James Buchan, a former Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times, studied Persian literature in Isfahan in the 1970s.

The tumult that followed the Iranian presidential election of June 2009 revealed to an inattentive world an Iranian public that bore little resemblance to its idiosyncratic and touchy rulers. It helped that many of the protesters were young and fashionable, adept in modern forms of communication, and decked out in green. The Islamic Republic’s self-image, virtuous and united against...

In March 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco leather. Boswell believed,...

Nostalgia for the Vestry: Thatcherism

James Buchan, 30 November 2006

Of the monuments of the Thatcher era, one of the most intriguing is a small file card, on which are written four pairs of words: Discord-Harmony, Error-Truth, Doubt-Faith, Dispair [sic]-Hope. These are the bones of the prayer attributed (not very plausibly) to St Francis of Assisi that Margaret Thatcher quoted on the steps of 10 Downing Street on her first day as prime minister, 4 May 1979:...

Diary: My Hogs

James Buchan, 18 October 2001

Sometimes, standing in the small wood that shields my house from the north, I whisper the word ‘Pigs!’ Within a second, bursting from the laurels, alert and obedient as no dog could be, comes a pair of Gloucester Old Spot gilts to nuzzle my hand. Or sometimes, if I am late with their afternoon bucket of scraps, they break out of their enclosure and hurtle across to bang their rumps against the kitchen door. As I contemplate these animals, my mind’s eye fills with placid agricultural visions. More and extensive areas of the woods are cleared of brambles and brush. My cow begins to produce milk and the pigs take the surplus, like a Denmark in miniature; or they are turned out when the corn is cut to glean the spilled grain; or when the orchard is up, they manure the trees and eat the insect-tainted fruit. In this beautiful and frictionless economy (in the old Xenophontic or Aristotelian sense of household rather than state management, which is, properly, political economy), the pig is the heart and soul, the wild card, the blockbuster, the Maxim gun. Indeed, to me a wood without pigs is like a ballroom without women.

Only a Hop and a Skip to Money: gold

James Buchan, 16 November 2000

Gold is the most metaphysical of the metals. A couple of layers of gilding, and items of everyday experience attain perfection: golden calf, golden section, golden goal. In the form of money, gold was always the currency more of heaven than of earth. As late as 1965, President de Gaulle told a press conference at the Elysée Palace that gold was ‘eternally and universally accepted...

A Betting Man: John Law

Colin Kidd, 12 September 2019

Britain’s​ early Enlightenment, between the 1680s and the 1750s, was the golden age of ‘projectors’, the name given to promoters of speculative schemes, some for making money,...

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The Iranian Revolution was a revolt against Western-imposed modernisation in favour of an enchanted path to modernity.

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Back to Isfahan

Richard Lloyd Parry, 27 April 2000

Early on in his new novel, James Buchan employs an image of which he is evidently fond: that of two mirrors placed face to face, and the unique and disconcerting effect which they produce, of...

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For a Few Dollars More

Frank Kermode, 18 September 1997

‘I have no life except in poetry,’ runs an aphorism of Wallace Stevens; but in another he says ‘Money is a kind of poetry,’ so the fact that he spent his working life as...

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Good Things

Michael Hofmann, 20 April 1995

I don’t believe this country has a better writer to offer than James Buchan. I can’t think of anyone who concedes so much of his own intelligence to his protagonists –...

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Anthony Quinn, 29 August 1991

The heroine of Lucy Ellmann’s new novel is one of an increasingly rare breed in modern fiction – a virgin. Isabel is a thirty-something art history student, prim, gauche, improbably...

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Walter Nash, 18 February 1988

Along with the hearing-aid and the bifocals and other indices of personal decay goes an elderly fretfulness about staying alert in a world so teasing, so elusive, that even novels, which should...

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