The Business

ISBN: 0743200144
ISBN 13: 9780743200141
By: Iain Banks

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About this book

From one of Britain's most celebrated authors comes this fast-paced and wickedly satirical novel -- already a top bestseller in England -- about a highly secretive, centuries-old organization bent on global domination.From Silicon Valley to Scotland's Silicon Glen, Kate Telman trawls the globe in search of opportunities for her place of employment, cryptically known only as The Business. Though raised from girlhood to be a partner in The Business, Kate is still trying to navigate the mysterious world of the cabal-like organization whose origins predate the Christian church.With tentacles stretching from the ice-fields of Antarctica to a remote Himalayan principality, The Business boasts possession of a book of DaVinci cartoons, pornographic paintings by Michelangelo, and several sets of crown jewels. Yet its exact nature seems to be vague to the point of invisibility. In the course of her journey, Kate begins to uncover some curious facts about her enigmatic employer, and to keep control of her life she must learn to do The Business.In its first week out, The Business hit #3 on the Times of London's bestseller list, with tens of thousands of British readers having thrilled to this visciously funny commentary on corporate takeovers, the rise of the Internet, and other post-Cold War struggles for economic and political domination.

Reader's Thoughts

Sally Melia

I have read all of Iain Banks novels and this one is one of my favourites.The Business from where the book gets its name is a centuries old concern, at one point in the novel it is suggested that its history stretches back as far as the Roman Empire, but the story postulates the compelling conceit that over centuries The Business has been built up with assets and resources that go beyond countries and national powers to influence every part of the world.Unexpectedly, at the top of The Business is a strictly meritocratic management structure, and here we come to the main story which is that of Kate who by a chance encounter on a housing estate outside Coatbridge, Glasgow, was lifted out of dire poverty to become Kathryn Telman, a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top).I won't say much about the story, except to say it had me hooked from the very start. It keeps the reader interested by using a variety of styles, phone conversations, emails, interview extracts; but also by a globe spanning selection of locals from Texas to Tibet, Yorkshire to Geneva. When it comes to describing how the very wealthy and eccentric spend their money, Iain Banks is as ever witty and entertaining.I think what I find compelling about this book is the character of Kate Telman, as always Iain Banks female heroines are excellent, and the overall story of not necessarily good vs evil, but greed vs the greater good. Also some interesting reflections on what makes a happy life.Recommended.

Robert Dunbar

Imagine if Evelyn Waugh had written “The Firm.”Remember that book? It was a by-the-numbers thriller from John Grisham – effective enough, especially if your expectations weren’t high. But imagine if Waugh had written it. The plot would retain that edge-of-the-seat construction, yet be informed by a real – and quite dark – artistic sensibility, replete with vicious humor and enhanced by a flair for characterization. Iain Banks’ THE BUSINESS concerns an insidious secret organization (and the lone woman with nerve enough to challenge it). The Business is an unimaginably powerful enterprise, ancient and ubiquitous, with origins that predate both the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire, the latter of which it briefly owned. Not so much a clandestine institution as a clandestine empire, it makes extraordinary demands on its staff. Management personnel must renounce religious and national allegiances, even family connections. Enter Kate Telman, a sort of executive-in-waiting, groomed since childhood to ascend to the organization’s upper echelon. After years of concentrated effort and careful planning, Kate is about to take her place within the inner circle… when things get messy. After all, personal morality can be an insuperable handicap in the world of business. Though Kate dallies with both her handsome chauffeur and a prince in peril, the real romance here is the romance of power. As THE BUSINESS demonstrates, even Banks’ mainstream thrillers retain a distinctly speculative edge. A sharply observed play of ideas provide the author’s major focus here, and fans of his macabre brand of satiric vision will not be disappointed.

Big Lemons

3 and 1/2 stars


’El Negocio’ (The Business, 1999) es una novela escrita por el Banks de la rama mainstream, y por tanto no tiene nada que ver con su particular universo de ciencia ficción de La Cultura. Pero esta obra se aleja bastante de sus otras obras mainstream, como ‘La fábrica de avispas’, ‘Pasos sobre cristal’, ‘Una canción de piedra’, ‘Cómplice’ o ‘El puente’, ya que todas contienen elementos de una imaginación insuperable, y un ritmo muy atractivo. En el caso de ’El Negocio’, no sucede esto; la acción es más pausada y en ocasiones aburrida. Banks ha querido escribir un thriller con tintes de conspiración que tarda mucho en arrancar.Pero vayamos con la trama. El Negocio es una empresa, una sociedad secreta más bien, cuya historia se remonta hasta el Imperio Romano, y que se ha visto implicada, directa o indirectamente, en algunos momentos decisivos de la Historia, pero siempre manteniéndose en un segundo plano. Porque la misión principal de El Negocio, y de sus miembros, es hacer dinero, y el poder que éste conlleva. La protagonista, Kate Telman, pertenece a uno de los niveles más altos de la jerarquía que controla El Negocio, cargo que ha alcanzado gracias a su buen ojo para las nuevas tecnologías. La vida de Kate es relativamente plácida, e iremos conociendo parte de su pasado y de cómo entró en conocimiento de El Negocio, a través de flashbacks. La ambición de Kate no es otra que subir de nivel. Pero El Negocio ambiciona algo que lleva persiguiendo desde hace siglos: la posesión de un Estado propio y la inmunidad y el poder que esto supondría.Banks narra muy bien, y sus diálogos son excelentes, “marca de la casa”, y la evolución de su protagonista durante la trama es muy meritoria, llegas a entender sus actos. Pero ’El Negocio’ no deja de ser una obra menor de Banks. Correcta, interesante por momentos, pero que no me ha dejado excesiva huella.

Susan Leonard

An easy to read, well written & interesting book. But ultimately disappointing. Bank's writing kept me turning the pages, wanting to know more. I enjoyed the central character, Kate Telman, but found the other characters in the novel too unbelievable, too over-the-top stereotypical charactures - although I suspect this was Banks intention (very rich people are all madly eccentric??). The early promise of a intriguing investigative thriller was never really fulfilled, although all the loose ends were tied up, I'd describe the ending as more of a damp squib.

Samuel Toms

I have just re-read this book and I must admit the first time around I was not as impressed as I have been by the Culture series.This time however, I think I gave the book a bit more time and can say that the second read was a much more enjoyable experience.It would appear that a lot of effort went into creating the underlying structure of the story (at least that is the impression I got), and the journey with the main character Kate is certainly an interesting one.Lots of plot, a good helping of intrigue and what is now starting to become familiar to me in his work, that humorous element of cynicism are abound. It is still a relatively quick read and outside of his Science Fiction, it is definitely worth picking up, although I would also recommend Wasp Factory as an excellent read too.In short: Definitely worth it, maybe not the best ever, but I am certainly becoming more of a fan.


Perhaps the weakest of Banks' 'straight' novels, it is in some ways his most readable. It is told from the perspective of Kate Telman, a high-ranking female executive in a multinational corporation -- known simply as 'The Business' -- whose roots go back into antiquity. Indeed, for a few weeks it owned the Roman Empire. Telman is plucked from obscurity and eventually marries the titular ruler of an obscure Himalayan kingdom, thus ensuring that the Business gets a seat at the United Nations. In some ways this is a cynical retelling of Cinderella. As with everything Banks writes, the characters and locales are endlessly fascinating, but there is a heartlessness about Telman that leaves one, in the end, out of sympathy.

Elliot Raff

Extremely well written female lead. Strong character driven narrative. Enough intrigue and twists to make it a can't stop reading experience.

Michael Anderson

Well written, though the fact that the Business has been around since BC played not one bit in the story. Seems a lot of reviewers say this book is not nearly as good as many of his others. In that case, his others must be some hot shit, since I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I can't wait to read more.


not sure about this one on first read, but at a loss for a book to read I headed back to the bookcase, and I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed the story this time around. Kate is a likeable character with 2 things on her side that most of us don't have - time (she's on sabbatical from her job for a year) and money (she is a high level exec in a global 'business') So with this background she spends her time and money on solving a bit of a mystery!


Iain Banks wrote one of my favorite books, so my expectations might have been high when I picked up this one. Instead of the interesting characters and fascinating setting punctuated with a few giggles here and there as Banks created in 'The Crow Road', this book boasts one dimensional characters, one dimensional villains and absurd conspiracy. As a businesswoman myself, I thought a book with a powerful business woman as the lead might be interesting. Unfortunately, as the book went on, her motivations and point of view were left entirely unexplored giving her decisions along the way a lack of context. One might as well have rolled the dice to determine her next action.

Jeremy Hornik

Woman who works for a massive and secret business that controls much of the world's wealth gets into buying a company, while investigating some corporate shenanigans and being mildly sad about her empty love life (but vigorous sex life). The whole book is sort of about compromise. The prose style is unfortunately in that sort of benignly clever British thing that starts (brilliantly) with P.G. Wodehouse... but has the effect of draining the tension from thrillers in jokey asides.

Ian Caithness

An incredible novel on the human condition and the temptation of capitalism in business. Iain Banks writes with a free-flowing and captivating prose that allows people to sink into his books and come out at the end feeling refreshed.


3 & a half stars. pretty good. deeper than it looks, perhaps, in that the protagonist changes enormously over a short period of time, in response to events, and her evolution is nicely done. a bit odd to write this particular person to choose to change, though: someone with a lot of power and money, who starts out pursuing her own pronounced self-interest in maintaining the status quo, maintaining deliberately a shallow and rather callous view both of other people and her own emotional life. out of this change in perspective, a feminist perspective emerges that's rather interesting but also appears to be a bit of a tacked-on afterthought, suggesting that it has been incompletely developed by the narrative. also, the plot seems a little fantastical, or science fictional, in contrast to the whole global finance theme which is all too plausible, and the two different tonal approaches tend to undercut and devalue each other. the pacing is also a bit peculiar, possibly because it reads like the book was meant to be much longer, but then just as it's getting interesting wraps up summarily. still, like all of Banks, worth reading.


This is my third Iain Banks novel (I've also read A Song of Stone and The Wasp Factory), and of those it is the one that reads most like an Iain M. Banks novel. Specifically, the protagonist, Kate, seems like she could be a Contact agent in the Culture novels. That said, while the book moves along and the characters are somewhat interesting, I didn't think this book had a lot going for it. It read more like a Neal Stephenson book, with Kate flying around the world and dealing with people more powerful than her within her organization (The Business). The Business itself is an ancient money-making enterprised, organized internally on somewhat democratic foundations, but outwardly mainly focused on making money. Both The Business and Kate are ethically ambiguous, and I feel like, while probably part of the point, this makes the book slightly less compelling.

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