Readers whose familiarity with John Buchan’s life and work ends on the closing page of Mr. Standfast or at the final frame of Hitchcock’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps” may find it difficult to believe that their author, beyond his position as the acknowledged father of the modern spy thriller, led a life that ranged widely across the landscape of British politics and culture.
Buchan’s literary career, one that started almost as an afterthought, was astonishing, comprising a hundred titles that ranged from the thrillers for which he is best known to children’s books, from biographies to romances, from poetry to screenplays. But Buchan’s literary output represented only a fraction of his life experience; he moved in the uppermost reaches of British political, military, and cultural affairs, acting as speechwriter and confidant to two prime ministers, and counting luminaries as varied as Virginia Woolf, Robert Graves, and T. E. Lawrence as his colleagues and friends. He served as director of information during World War I and later as a member of Parliament, ending his long career as the beloved governor general of Canada.
Andrew Lownie’s biography—the first in over thirty years—reveals a character as complex and fascinating as any in his great quartet of thrillers starring master spy Richard Hannay. He succeeds in the daunting task of retelling Buchan’s life in all its variety, breadth, and complexity. Based on exhaustive research, this admirable biography produces a comprehensive portrait of one of the last century’s most engaging and fascinating figures.
Andrew Lownie offers a solid and convincing portrait of a complex man and controls the innumerable aspects of Buchan’s life in an exemplary manner.
—Times Literary Supplement
Admirably readable, this book will be invaluable to those who are now encountering Buchan’s work for the first time. Lownie’s lucid account of Buchan’s life redefines the man as infinitely more complex than he thought he was.
—John Sutherland, Sunday Times
Trumpets should now sound for Buchan; and I will sound one of my own for Andrew Lownie, who has brought this most extraordinary man to life in a way no previous writer has.
—Patrick Cosgrove, Independent
In his thorough and lucid biography, Andrew Lownie, a Scottish journalist and editor of several collections of Buchan’s stories and poetry, sympathetically evokes this ‘highly complex and private man who may not always himself have understood his own motivations and abilities.’
—New York Times