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

Big Lemons

3 and 1/2 stars


This felt like a bit of a homage to Douglas Coupland; part travelogue, part journey of self-discovery by a rising star in a large business organisation.The only speculative element was the nature of the millennia old (legitimate) business.There is a literal plot that serves to move the main characters from place to place. I don't, however, feel that is the really "point" of the novel, more a catalyst for change in the character's lives.In the end I was rather charmed by this not-love story...


Not one of his best. I've tried to read it twice now and can't get through it.

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.


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.


It amazes me just how versatile Iain Banks is as an author and this novel is no exception. The Business reminded me stylistically of Complicity but I found it more engaging and faster paced. The concept of 'The Business' was fascinating but I disliked the character of Kathyrn who I found too outspoken and irritating. The plot was well developed although I felt the ending was a bit on the cheesy side which although fitted the overall plot, was perhaps a bit dissapointing. Overall it was an enjoyable read but I have to say I prefer the darker novels Banks has written and indeed his sci-fi as Iain M. Banks.

Elliot Raff

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

Chris Bullock

I really enjoyed this. The story line was not what I was expecting from Iain Banks, as I had only read his Science Fiction before.Difficult to fit into any specific genre, even the title doesn't really help - perhaps thriller/adventure with some romance thrown in. An interesting read, which keeps you guessing on the outcome until right at the end.I did like the way he educates his British vs. American readers.I now plan to read many more of his non-SF books.


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.

Martin Davey

For years I thought Iain Banks could do no wrong. 'The Wasp Factory', 'The Bridge', 'Complicity' and all the rest, every time I read an Iain Banks book I felt as though my mind had been blown by the guy's genius. And then I ran out to WH Smith and bought 'The Business' as soon as it was released. Ack.It sounds interesting enough, the whole history of the Business, this huge, shadowy organisation and this woman who works for them. But the book is what I never ever thought Banks could be. Dull. I kept throwing the book to one side and then picking it up again, thinking it's Banks right? It has to be awesome and genius. But no, it was about this woman I couldn't begin to care about who works for this organization that's so shadowy that I couldn't care less about it. And on this journey the woman meets people who I remember being just as dull as she is.In his earlier novels Banks always had the brilliance of his writing to carry the day, but in this one there wasn't even that to fall back on.A massive let down after his earlier books.

Simon Mcleish

Originally published on my blog here in July 2000.The Business is a shadowy commercial operation which has been in existence for thousands of years, and which now aims to buy itself a country, so its senior executives can gain the privileges which go with a diplomatic passport. Kate Telman, the narrator, is not quite up to that level, but is one of the rising stars in the Business, and it is not particularly surprising when she is asked to become an ambassador of sorts to the Himalayan kingdom of Thulahn to arrange the purchase of the country from the reigning prince, particularly as he is known to have a strong fancy for her.The Business is, of course, designed by Banks to be the kind of organisation which attracts conspiracy theories, even if Kate is quite vehement in denying them ("We're not a cover for the CIA. They're the Company, not the Business."). This aspect of the novel is entertaining and unusual: most conspiracy theory novels are written from the point of view of an external investigator, rather than someone closely involved in what could clearly appear sinister to an outsider even if considered relatively innocent by herself. Kate has strong reasons to be grateful to the Business, which lifted her out of the deprived background in which she was born, but she is not entirely naive about the organisation and some of its senior members. She is one of several female point of view characters used by Banks (Canal Dreams, Whit, and Against a Dark Background provide other examples), and is reasonably convincing if a little bland.The star of The Business is Thulahn, which is an exaggerated version of Bhutan or Nepal, content to remain one of the remotest parts of the world. The people may be poor, but at least they're happy. The questionable benefits of Business sponsored development programmes begin to make Kate think twice about the whole deal, but in the end the country's portrayal is too idyllic for the issues to have real meaning.If The Business has a message, it is one it shares with Whit. This is that it is possible - and maybe easier - to be happy without the distractions of modern Western culture, without the consumer luxuries with which we are surrounded. (Whit makes this point more effectively, as its narrator is one of those on the outside of consumer culture, while Kate lives a life of corporate luxury.) Banks is surely trying to say that we should look at our own lives to see what in the material world is really important, what really brings us happiness.This is one of the reasons why The Business lacks the significance of Banks' earlier novels - or other novels about the third world. Compared to, say, The God of Small Things, it has nothing to say; it lacks the brilliance of The Bridge or the immense shock value of The Wasp Factory. Banks seems to have become a bit too comfortable, but is still a good writer and extremely entertaining.

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.


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!

Clive Thompson

In some of Bank's novels you are not sure whether they are set in the past, present or future. This one appears to be set in the present, if the past had been different. In this version of Bank's world, an organisation (The Business) has become more and more powerful through legitimate means and has a structure that is based on promotions rather than the 'murder to get to the top' of less successful family organisations. The story follows Kate Telman through the most important times that she has with The Business - and her realisations also.A year before writing this review, I read the novel on holiday and returned to add an instant review to the Amazon pages. In that, I stated that my guess would be that, in the future, all Bank's previous works, before "The Business" will be termed his earlier works; such is the level of maturity seen in this novel. I believe this to be his best so far and probably also the most accessible. It would be a good introduction to Banks and a springboard to "The earlier works""A close inspection of my own personal Mammon graph would reveal even to the untrained eye that my remuneration package - including commission multipliers gained as a result of my successful forecasts regarding computers and the Internet - was already more generous than that of many of our Level Two executives. It had occurred to me a couple of years earlier that I was probably what the average person would consider independently wealthy; in other words that I could have existed comfortably without my job though, of course, as a good Business woman, that was all but unthinkable for me."Note in the above that Business woman has a capital B. The Business is all powerful and Kate has to cope with that fact at the expense of her own feelings. Doesn't she?


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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