Cover ultimate folly

A gripping story of greed, treachery and ruthless ambition.

Few people have led such an extraordinary life as Whitaker Wright. Few have died in such sensational circumstances. Beginning his career as an impoverished preacher, Wright crossed the Atlantic to prospect for gold, surviving a Native American massacre before he made his fortune. Then the bubble burst. Leaving behind a string of angry investors, he fled to England to start again. Soon he was one of the world’s richest men.

At his 10,000-acre estate in Surrey, he employed an entourage of seventy-seven staff, moved a hill that blocked his view and built an underwater glass smoking room. On his vast steam yacht, he entertained the Prince of Wales, the Kaiser and half of Britain’s aristocracy.

His downfall was as dramatic as his ascent. On the last trading day of the nineteenth century, his financial empire – which he had propped up by cooking the books – went belly up. This time, the trail of furious investors stretched all the way to the Prime Minister. With the police in hot pursuit, Wright fled to New York, but his escape was short-lived. At the end of what the press dubbed ‘the most dramatic trial of modern times’ he was sentenced to seven years in jail. Minutes later, he sprang a last dreadful surprise...

Other great swindlers have followed in Wright’s footsteps, but none have surpassed him in daring and shamelessness. Drawing on family papers and archives from around the world, this compelling account of Wright’s life reads like a thriller and offers an insight into the mind of the ultimate gambler and conman.


“Whitaker Wright was one of the great characters of the Victorian age – Methodist minister, businessman, swindler and symbol of excess – whose life inspired some of H. G. Wells’s finest books. Henry Macrory has found a glorious subject and tells Wright’s extraordinary story in vivid, exciting prose that makes his book a tremendous pleasure to read."

Dominic Sandbrook, author, historian and TV presenter

“One of my reads of the year. Absolutely superb. Henry Macrory’s impeccably researched and brilliantly told account of Whitaker Wright’s extraordinary life is a page-turner from start to finish.”

George Osborne, editor, London Evening Standard

“A fascinating story about an extraordinary man – grippingly told.”

Penny Junor, biographer of Prince Charles, Prince William and Margaret Thatcher

“The forgotten story of an extraordinary man, a roguish hustler with a genius for self-reinvention who for a time was the richest man in Britain. The book has been diligently researched and the narrative, with its dramatic last twist, is highly entertaining.”

Blake Morrison, award-winning novelist and author of two bestselling memoirs

“This is compelling and revelatory stuff. Henry Macrory reminds us, with commendable power and restraint, that truth really is stranger than fiction. The story of Whitaker Wright has movie written all over it.”

Jonathan Mantle, bestselling biographer of Jeffrey Archer and Andrew Lloyd Webber

“A biography that reads like a thriller – the roaring life of the world’s greatest ever fraudster. This MUST become a movie!"

Gwyn Headley, architectural historian and author of the National Trust Book of Follies

“Rattling good stuff – best biography I’ve read in a long time. Henry Macrory has the gift of a natural storyteller.”

Tim Satchell, bestselling biographer of Steve McQueen and Fred Astaire

“Having been intrigued by the life of Whitaker Wright for many years, I’m delighted to be able to recommend Ultimate Folly. Henry Macrory has written a gripping biography which highlights the extreme wealth and ultimate tragedy of a fascinating nineteenth-century swindler.”

Salema Nazzal, author of The Folly Under the Lake

“A tour de force of rip-roaring adventure, treachery and double-dealing. Henry Macrory’s compelling tale of this larger-than-life swindler is an absolute joy to read.”

Michael Toner, novelist and playwright

Ultimate Folly is a truly fascinating account of an extraordinary man … Would that my grandfather-in-law, Sir James Reid, had never set eyes on Whitaker Wright!”

Michaela Reid, biographer of Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Sir James Reid

“Henry Macrory recounts with consummate panache the gripping story of one Britain’s most remarkable folly builders."

Jonathan Holt, editor of Follies magazine

“I’m delighted that the full story of my great-great-uncle’s fascinating life has been told at last. Ultimate Folly brims with adventure and skulduggery and kept me riveted throughout.”

Derek Wright

"Henry Macrory’s portrait of Whitaker Wright is an unstoppably entertaining account of one of the greatest tycoons and swindlers of the 19th century, while its depiction of hysterical booms and busts suggests all kinds of contemporary parallels. […]Macrory’s colourful biography is racily entertaining, sometimes astonishing, and with global debt now running at $237 trillion, not entirely irrelevant to the way we live now."

Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times

"Henry Macrory resurrects Wright's astonishing story in forensic detail, with verve and panache."

Stephen Bates, Literary Review
Show more

Share this book

Buy this book

  • eBook
  • ISBN: 9781785903922
  • 12 June 2018
  • £16.99

About our eBooks