The Great Gambler
He was a womanizer, a murderer, a scientifical gambler, a mathematic genius and the financial star of the 17th century: John Law, the man who invented paper money and modern finance, „Quantitative Easing“, and the biggest economical disaster in history.
Set during a time of great upheaval and change, THE GREAT GAMBLER (DAS GROSSE SPIEL) is a fictionalized retelling of the life of John Law, the famous inventor of paper money. A Scotsman by birth, a brilliant mathematician, card player and womanizer, John Law of Lauriston got himself involved in a fencing duel which landed him in a London prison. He escaped to Paris where his modern ways were quite opposite to those of Louis XIV. In Venice, Law invented the State lottery and made a fortune. After the demise of the Roi de Soleil, Law was admitted back to Paris where he finally turned his economic theories into reality.
He put aside the gambling cards to test his theories on an entire country and invented papermoney.
After 30 years of war, and huge poverty Europe was finished, but ready for change. As a result, thousands of Frenchmen turned rich over night. John Law became the world’s first „millionaire“. But not for long: people’s greed and a fair amount of stupidity caused this economic bubble to burst. John Law, a true tragic hero, was exiled to Venice, leaving his family behind in poverty and despair. John Law was the epitome of the great adventurers who, against all odds, laid the foundations to what we now call the Age of Reason.
Available in 13 languages: Print, eBook, Audio / English Version: Paperback, eBook
A summary of excerpts from the german press
„Cueni is the shooting-star on the hot market for historical novel. His gripping thriller about the invention of paper money is a highlight of the genre.“
The book that can do everything. Simply great.. I love Cueni. His sharp mind, his precision, his curiosity are just plain fun, his sense of humour combined with his superb sovereignity and his Helvetic dryness are endearing.
„To educate, to entertain and to move – this is Claude Cueni’s motto. (…) Readers will see how learning can become sexy: when it is wrapped in thrilling stories of money, power and chronic movements of the loins.“
Do you know Claude Cueni? No? But he is the most successful Swiss author. Skillfully, Cueni writes about the New Economy of the 18th century. „The Great Game“ is an exciting tale of how a bankrupt society sets out on a jorney to find a new economical order.
(Swiss Television SF1)
„At refreshingly fast pace, the author tells an exiting episode in the history of economy for reading pleasure in a chair on the beach.
„Told fluently, easy to read, this is great reading with a lot of historical facts and brilliant dialogues. Cueni knows how to develop suspension and how to keep it … to the last page.“
„You simply must read this!“
„It’s „The Perfume“ of money and the historical novel of this season.“
„A gripping thriller.“
„A brilliant masterpiece!“
„Swiss writer Claude Cueni has penned a thrilling novel along the historical facts of the life of the financial genius, gambler and lover John Law. Powerful in its use of language and often explicit in its descriptions, this book depicts the unique period of change at the brink to Enlightenment. Cueni’s novel combines historical fact, the theory of economics and a wild tale of adventure to achieve perfect joy of reading.“
„Bankers are boring and financial derivatives a curse of modern times? Those who thinks so should read THE GREAT GAME. (…) Never has the history of today’s financial system been told as excitingly as here.“
(Welt am Sonntag, Hamburg)
„A successful mix of fiction and historical facts and an exciting study of genius, madness, human greatness and stupid vice.“
(NDR/ARD, German TV)
„Highly readable and at the same time a great description of what it must have been like to be living 300 years ago.“
Interview July 2008
Q: What is the historic significance of John Law?
A: John Law was definitely the greatest financial genius of all time. His idea to use paper to make money was a revolutionary concept at the time. In those days, a coin had exactly the value of the metal it was made of. And then, all of a sudden, John Law suggested that a worthless piece of paper was supposed to have some real value. That was very odd indeed. It was revolutionary and way ahead of time.
Q: What makes John Law typical of his period? What made hime unique?
A: He is the prototype for the new man on the brink to the period of Enlightenment. He questioned and reinvented everything. He was a radical non-conformist. He even designed his own clothes. As a Protestant he lived with a married Catholic woman who gave birth to their two bastard children. Whatever he chose to do, he did with amazing passion and perseverance. He was a man of action and he became the wealthiest man of his time.
Q: How do you explain his success?
A: It takes more than a single quality to be really successful. John Law wasn’t only a brilliant mathematician and a genius of finances. Like Julius Cesar, he was also capable of taking quick decisions and very high risks. He was handsome and charismatic. And he was a passionate lover, a collector of art and he was capable of compassion and sympathy for the poor.
Q: John Law was also a gambler. Was he an addict?
A: John Law wasn’t just an ordinary gambler. His skills in gambling were extraordinary. He played cards like no other, but he used his abilities mostly to prove his theories. He gambled scientifically. Addicted gamblers, on the other hand, are weak and unstable. They don’t realize that their losses are the casino’s profits. Casinos can only be built so luxuriously because so many idiots go there every night to hand over their money to them.
Q: So, what was the scientific purpose of Law’s gambling?
A: Let’s not forget that all economic theories are based on game theories. Insurance companies, for instance, work with the same calculus of probabilities that are also used by professional gamblers. It’s the same thing. It’s mathematics. In real life it can be used for both economics, and pleasure. The results are often the same – disaster.
Q: Clearly, John Law was up against a lot of resistance. How did he manage to persevere?
A: People with his passion don’t have a choice. Actually, it’s how I work myself (which explains why I find it so easy to understand someone who is completely obsessed with an idea). You know, I have been writing without much success for ten years. But it never bothered me. Basically, it’s like a game: You play to win. Earning money is a side-effect. Consider football. You go on the lawn to score goals, not to make money.
Q: Did John Law have any rivals in terms of economic genius? Was there anybody like him during his lifetime?
A: No, I don’t think so.
Q: Was he aware of how profound an influence his ideas would have?
A: Yes, John Law had a very clear idea of how he was going to reduce poverty and suffering in Europe. He made very precise plans and they worked.
Q: What were John Law’s weaknesses?
A: He was more concerned with his ideas than the money he actually made. For him, money was only a commodity that he was planning to use in his fight against poverty in Europe. He was an idealist and a visionary on the very brink to the period of enlightenment. His biggest problem, however, was that he was ahead of his time.
Q: Which were his mistakes?
A: The one thing he had neglected was the human factor, the madness of the crowds. But, most of all, he couldn’t control the Prince Regent’s lack of discipline. Out of pure greed this man clandestinely ran the printing machine and flooded the market with money which, in the process, lost its value.
Q: So, we mustn’t blame John Law for the economic collapse of his country? After all, he was the minister of finance.
A: No, John Law must not be blamed for the country’s decline. His theories were correct and worked well. It was the Prince Regent, the Duc d’Orleans, who suffocated the country and ruined its economy by overspending and printing too much money. Actually, you could draw a line to the decline of the US Dollar today. The more money the Americans print (to pay far too expensive programs) the higher their inflation.
Q: Was John Law the first man to be involved with an economic mega-crash?
A: No, economic turbulences were not new. When Julius Caesar flooded the Roman market with gold that he had looted from the Gauls, the economy collapsed. Probably the first real economic crash in history was the tulip mania which occured in the Netherlands in the 1630s. However, during John Law’s lifetime the world, for the first time, witnessed a crash of the stock exchange that would be considered catastrophic, even against today’s standards. It ruined the country’s entire economy.
Q: Are John Law’s theories of economics still valid today?
A: Yes, of course. His theory of money is among the most influential ones ever formulated, even to this day. Our modern world of finances is based on Law’s system, although today’s democracies are capable of using more refined methods of control and guidance to avoid major instabilities. Even the whole idea of trading in options, puts and calls, derives from John Law’s laboratory of ideas.
Q: Can you compare John Law’s world to ours? What is different, what has remained the same?
A: If you look at everyday life of that period very carefully, you’ll see that generally speaking, things seem to improve. Today, Western Europeans are whining on a very high level of comfort and luxury. But those of us who have spent some time in Asia, will get a better idea of what life looked like 300 years ago in Europe. There are no health insurances in Asia, no public welfare, no support for the jobless. The mortality rate of young children is high and people mostly get married to secure their material belongings. If you happen to be unlucky, you don’t get a second chance. Nobody cares. In Asia today, life is very much like it was for John Law in Europe.
Q: John Law said that you don’t have to adore money in order to earn it. Was he correct?
A: Yes, of course. My son claims that he’s never met a person less interested in money than me but I always manage to bring home enough money. I think the only thing that counts to be successful is passion.
Q: How did you come across this story?
A: It was my son who brought my attention to the character of John Law. He first came across the name when he was reading the memoirs of Duc de Saint Simon.
Q: Where you also inspired by the writings of other adventurous characters of the period, like Casanove, for example?
A: No, not really. I’ve mostly been interested in the life of a man who, to the great surprise of his contemporaries and against considerable resistance, invented money made of paper. But I’ve also been fascinated by John Law, the Casanova, the gambler and the convicted duellist who was sentenced to death but continued to become the world’s wealthiest man, a mathematical genius and a popstar for the world of finances. There are so many sides to his personality, it’s really fantastic. I find it hard to understand why today everybody knows about Casanova, but hardly anybody has ever heard the name of John Law.
Q: What can we learn from John Law, the character?
A: When my book had come out in Germany many readers wrote to me that it had encouraged them and given them strength to suffer through difficult times and sudden periods of grief in their lives. Many wrote to say how it helped them to attempt something they had thought would be impossible. For me, John Law was exemplary because he never gave up. When I was writing the book, my wife knew that she was going to die soon. Every morning she said she would stop her chemotherapy if I didn’t continue writing the novel. So, I continued and finally finished it. It was to be the last book my wife read. Then she died. In my book I wrote about the poverty and the suffering of people during the 18th century. Many of my readers have recognized that they are reading the book of an author who has undergone terrible suffering and pain himself, but who struggled on and kept going.