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Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps : A Life of John Buchan
Bloomsbury Publishing

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps : A Life of John Buchan

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Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps
Author(s): Ursula Buchan

John Buchan's name is known across the world for The Thirty-Nine Steps. In the past hundred years the classic thriller has never been out of print and has inspired numerous adaptations for film, television, radio and stage, beginning with the celebrated version by Alfred Hitchcock.

Yet there was vastly more to 'JB'. He wrote more than a hundred books – fiction and non-fiction – and a thousand articles for newspapers and magazines. He was a scholar, antiquarian, barrister, colonial administrator, journal editor, literary critic, publisher, war correspondent, director of wartime propaganda, member of parliament and imperial proconsul – given a state funeral when he died, a deeply admired and loved Governor-General of Canada.

His teenage years in Glasgow's Gorbals, where his father was the Free Church minister, contributed to his ease with shepherds and ambassadors, fur-trappers and prime ministers. His improbable marriage to a member of the aristocratic Grosvenor family means that this account of his life contains, at its heart, an enduring love story.

Ursula Buchan, his granddaughter, has drawn on recently discovered family documents to write this comprehensive and illuminating biography. With perception, style, wit and a penetratingly clear eye, she brings vividly to life this remarkable man and his times.


“John Buchan was a writer of considerable significance but he was also a man who led a remarkable public life. This magnificent biography leads us through that life with great style and understanding” —Alexander McCall Smith

“[An] outstanding biography ... Though factual, it reads like a big, rambling Victorian novel, and takes you, as novels do, into other people's lives” —John Cary, Sunday Times

“Page-turning, buccaneering stuff” —Laura Freeman, The Times

“Excellent … [Ursula Buchan] gives us a strong sense of both the man and his milieu” —Allan Massie, Spectator

“Apart from Buchan's relentless work ethic, what shines forth from these pages is his generosity of spirit … Ursula Buchan shows a similar generosity of spirit in this wonderfully fluent biography” —Justin Marozzi, Financial Times

“Drawing on recently discovered family documents, this fascinating biography grants us the fullest picture of Buchan and his public and private life that we have ever had. Perhaps it will inspire some overdue screen adaptations of the 'rollicking adventure stories' of this most visual of novelists” —Country Life

“The great strength of this book is to make Buchan not just the writer of “shockers”, but a man whose influence helped change government policy … Ursula Buchan has done an admirable piece of work … She rightly puts his faith at the centre of the book and this lays a line towards a reimagination of Buchan” —Stuart Kelly, i

“Buchan's thrillers exploited contemporary events (and anxieties) which made them extensions of his political life. Both are integral to this excellent book in which Ursula Buchan has balanced her grandfather's public and literary achievements with his family life and internal tensions. He emerges as a thoroughly decent man and she as a brilliant biographer” —Standpoint

“[An] exemplary, diligent biography” —William Boyd, New Statesman

“Ursula Buchan has written a superb biography…[She] combines an intimate understanding of her grandfather with a scholarly reading of the immense mass of his papers in a hugely enjoyable and rewarding biography of a man of many parts and remarkable energy. A Buchan revival is certainly due” —History Today

“[Ursula Buchan's] pious ambition is to restore our awareness of JB as a far more complex and sympathetic character than received opinion has it. She does so wonderfully well. Her biography is thoroughly researched and elegantly written, and it proves beyond reasonable doubt that John Buchan was, if not one of the greatest, then certainly one of the most remarkable writers and public men of the early 20th century” —The Literary Review

ISBN:  9781408870815