Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Paper (2000) by David Liss

A Conspiracy of Paper (2000)
David Liss

This enthralling first novel by David Liss is remarkably good, and its early promise has been borne out in his subsequent fiction. Set in London in 1719, the book introduces Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish former pugilist turned thieftaker. Weaver is alienated from both his family and his religion, making this novel set in the early 18th century feel remarkably contemporary.

A Conspiracy of Paper takes place just before the South Sea Bubble financial crisis. Liss is drawn to the history of finance and of its disruptions. At this period of history, people were just coming to terms with the idea that paper bills could represent the same kind of monetary value as gold or silver specie. The idea of paper stock certificates was revolutionary at the time too, akin perhaps in some way to the revolution we have seen with complex finance in the digital age.

Liss is a thoughtful and an entertaining writer, and I think readers who seek out his books will be well-rewarded. After reading all of his novels, though, I've come to wonder whether he has any faith in the capitalist system itself. I hope he does.  He seems to understand all the things that have gone wrong and that can go wrong. He knows how financial disasters have hurt a great many people who trusted their earnings to the market. In 1719, when modern finance was in its infancy and abuse rampant, I have to concede that Liss's implied criticism of the very flawed financial system is more or less appropriate.

Warner Brothers optioned the rights to this book in 2010 and we could soon be seeing it on the big screen. It has the potential to be a thrilling, suspenseful movie, if they get it right. Granted, that's a big if.

David Liss's latest book The Twelfth Enchantment is coming out on August 9. I'm going to post a few more reviews of his books here before that date.



  1. Oh great, another author to add to my list ;-)

  2. This sounds good...haven't read anything by this author.

    THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Your Favorite Historical Fiction Post. I am in that list as #4.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

    1. I do recommend his novels, Elizabeth, although I'm beginning to suspect he has an aversion to satisfying endings.