posted Feb 18, 2011, 7:22 AM by Site Administrator
By Janet Gleeson

Three hundred years ago, a charismatic young gambler and man-about-town with a natural gift for mathematics fled London for the Continent. His name was John Law and he had good reason to go, having killed a man in an duel. Living off his lucrative winnings at the gaming tables of Europe, Law became increasingly fascinated by the nature of finance and journeyed to the impoverished, famine-stricken France of Louis XIV with an extraordinary idea. 

At a time when wealth was stored and exchanged as gold and silver coin - and there was rarely enough to fund the extravagances of kings, let alone trade - Law realised that the overriding problem was lack of available money. He reasoned that if this could be lent in the form of paper, properly backed by assets, then it could be lent repeatedly and credit used to multiply opportunities for the making of money. Such a radical notion meant that Law faced opposition from powerful vested interests. But his persistence paid off and in 1716, with royal backing, he established the first French bank to issue paper currency and created a trading company that would enrich shareholders beyond their wildest dreams: so much so that a new word - 'millionaire' - was coined to describe them. 

What follows is the stuff of epic drama: a tale of fortunes won and lost, of paupers made rich and lords losing all. And in telling this enthralling tragi-comic story, Janet Gleeson brings to life two fascinating characters who together would change the way the world worked: the inscrutable John Law, and mercurial money itself.