The Rising Sun.

By Douglas Galbraith

Printed: 2000

Publisher: Picador. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 5

Condition: Very good  (See explanation of ratings)

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In the original dustsheet. Black cloth binding with silver title on the spine.

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Douglas Galbraith’s The Rising Sun is an extraordinary tour de force of historical fiction in the tradition of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and David Liss’s A Conspiracy of Paper. A widespread critical favorite in hardcover, it was hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best novels of the past decade, and established its author as a major new talent. In 1698, five vessels led by the flagship Rising Sun embarked on a perilous voyage for the northern coast of what is now Panama, where passengers intended to found a colony at Darien. With them went the hopes and fortunes of the nation of Scotland, which sought to build an overseas empire so that it could at last compete on the world stage with its rival, England. The Rising Sun is the story of this mission and its tragic outcome, as recorded by the ship’s superintendent of cargoes, Roderick Mackenzie. A young man of promise and ambition, Mackenzie is quickly caught up in the intrigues of his fellow colonists — rivalries that will prove overwhelming as nationalist optimism gives way to the brutal realities of their hardscrabble life and rain, mud slides, and disease assault the Scottish encampment. A dramatic, pitch-perfect story of the adventures and betrayals of men under duress in a strange, exotic land, The Rising Sun establishes Douglas Galbraith as a writer of uncommon resonance and skill. “Galbraith’s powers of description are immense … it succeeds absolutely.” — Geoff Nicholson, The New York Times Book Review “The writing throughout is beautifully wrought…. …the tale unfolds like a vast exotic panorama demanding further examination … fascinating.” — Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles Times “[A] remarkable novelistic debut.” — Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

Review: This historical fiction covers an incident in history about which I was completely ignorant: the attempt by folks from Scotland to establish a colony in Central America, specifically in Panama. It’s a well-written tale, with sharp characterizations and quite descriptive passages. It’s a tale that the reader knows ends in sorrow and tragedy, but he keeps on with it, because of the clarity of the writing that conveys the sense of initial optimism, and then the growing knowledge, even if unspoken, that the enterprise is doomed to failure. The narrator is a likeable young man, and we follow his progress of ups and downs closely. The key to good writing is to make the reader interested in your main antagonist, and in this aspect the author has succeeded admirably. Read the book if for nothing else than finding out about a little known aspect of world, and Scottish, history.

Galbraith was born in 1965 to Alan and Judy Galbraith. He was educated at The Glasgow Academy and the University of St Andrews, where he read medieval history. He then undertook a PhD at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he met Tomoko Hanasaki.

After working in the wine trade, he was able to focus on writing after the success of his first novel, The Rising Sun, in 2000. The novel explored the Scottish trade expedition to Darien in 1698, which ended in financial ruin. It was awarded the Saltire Award for Best First Novel. His follow-up novel, Crichton, (about the Scottish polymath James Crichton) was offered publication, but his agent rejected the offer, thinking that further offers would be forthcoming. None were, and it was subsequently only published as an e-book.


  • The Rising Sun, (2000: Picador).

  • Crichton, (2010: e-book).

  • A Winter in China, (2005: Secker).

  • King Henry, (2008: Vintage).

  • My Son, My Son, (2012: Vintage).

Galbraith married Tomoko Hanasaki in 1996; they had two sons, Satomi and Makoto. In 2003, when the boys were six and four, Galbraith returned from a meeting with his publishers to discover that Hanasaki had abducted them and taken them to Japan. His memoir My Son, My Son is about their abduction. Despite his best efforts, Galbraith never saw his sons again, and they remain missing.

Galbraith died in 2018, aged 52.


“A New Map of the Isthmus of Darien in America, The Bay of Panama, The Gulph of Vallona or St. Michael, with its Islands and Countries Adjacent”. In A letter giving a description of the Isthmus of Darian, Edinburgh: 1699. The Scottish settlement of New Edinburgh can be seen on the coast above right.

The Darien scheme was an unsuccessful attempt, backed largely by investors of the Kingdom of Scotland, to gain wealth and influence by establishing New Caledonia, a colony in the Darién Gap on the Isthmus of Panama, in the late 1690s. The plan was for the colony, located on the Gulf of Darién, to establish and manage an overland route to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The backers knew that the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean by Balboa was after crossing the isthmus through Darién.

The attempt at settling the area did not go well; more than 80% of participants died within a year, and the settlement was abandoned twice. There are many explanations for the disaster. Rival claims have been made suggesting that the undertaking was beset by poor planning and provisioning; by divided leadership; by a lack of trade with local indigenous tribes or neighbouring Dutch and English colonies; by epidemics of tropical disease; widespread opposition to the scheme from commercial interests in England; and by a failure to anticipate a military response from the Spanish Empire. It was finally abandoned in March 1700 after a siege by Spanish forces, which also blockaded the harbour.

As the Company of Scotland was backed by approximately 20% of all the money circulating in Scotland, its failure left the entire Scottish Lowlands in financial ruin. This was an important factor in weakening their resistance to the Act of Union (completed in 1707). The land where the Darien colony was built is located in the modern territory of Guna Yala, an autonomous indigenous territory home to the Guna people. The expedition also took sovereignty over ‘Crab Isle’ (modern day Vieques, Puerto Rico) in 1698, yet sovereignty was short-lived.

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