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The Last King of Scotland

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The Last King of Scotland
First edition
AuthorGiles Foden
PublisherFaber and Faber
Publication date
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)

The Last King of Scotland is a novel by journalist Giles Foden, published by Faber and Faber in 1998. Focusing on the rise of Ugandan President Idi Amin and his reign as dictator from 1971 to 1979, the novel, which interweaves fiction and historical fact, is written as the memoir of a fictional Scottish doctor in Amin's employ. Foden's novel received critical acclaim and numerous awards when it was published. In 2006, a loose eponymous film adaptation was released.

Plot summary[edit]

The protagonist is a fictional character named Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who goes to work in Uganda out of a sense of idealism and adventure, arriving on the day of the 1971 Ugandan coup d'état. He relates how he came to be the personal physician and confidant of Amin, the president of Uganda during the Second Republic of Uganda. The novel focuses on Garrigan's relationship and fascination with the president, who soon grows into a brutal and ruthless dictator. Garrigan consciously and repeatedly acts against his better judgment, remaining in Amin's employment until he is far past the point of easy escape physically and morally. Mesmerized by Amin's charm and charisma, he is gradually drawn complicitly into the corruption and brutality of Amin's rule (including his personal participation in the severance of British relations with Uganda, the murder of Kay Amin, the events of Operation Entebbe and the murder of Dora Bloch, and the Uganda-Tanzania War) with fatal results for his friends and colleagues, which Garrigan treats with a mixture of physical disgust; nonchalant, fatalistic acceptance of living under a totalitarian regime; and self-serving denial of culpability.

Development and inspiration[edit]

Drawing on his twenty years of living in Africa and his background as a journalist, Foden researched the events surrounding Amin's rise to power and downfall. He interviewed many of those who watched and participated in Amin's eight-year reign and evokes the form of a memoir by inserting fictional newspaper articles and journal entries, along with actual events.

In a 1998 interview with the online magazine Boldtype, Foden said he based parts of Garrigan's character on an associate of Amin's named Bob Astles.[1][2] As a British soldier who worked his way into Amin's favour, Astles was much more "proactive" than Garrigan, according to Foden, and he paid the price by spending six and a half years in a Ugandan jail after the fall of his protector.

Astles compromised himself by his direct association with Amin's security forces. While Amin was in power, Astles was alternately either favoured or punished; he was imprisoned and tortured on at least one occasion. Foden drew in part on a lengthy interview with Astles in The Times by the journalist Paul Vallely, who spoke to Astles in a Ugandan jail after smuggling a message in to Amin's henchman in a Bible.[3]

Another real-life figure who has been mentioned in connection with Garrigan is Scottish doctor Wilson Carswell.[4] Amin's personal physician was, in fact, a Ugandan doctor called Paul D'Arbela.[citation needed]

The title of the book refers to Amin's declaring himself the "King of Scotland".[2] Foden claims that the book is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth as a third-world dictator.[5]

Stage adaptation[edit]

The book was adapted for the stage by Steve Waters in 2019, opening at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield;[6] The Observer gave the play three stars out of five, describing it as "morally flawed".[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Editions in print[edit]


  1. ^ "An Interview with Giles Foden". Random House. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Katie: The True Story Behind "The Last King"". CBS News. March 2007. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  3. ^ "The Last King of Scotland". prezi.com. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  4. ^ Pells, Rachael (10 October 2014). "Douglas Carswell profile". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  5. ^ Foden, Gil (2 September 2004). "The African play". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  6. ^ "The Last King of Scotland stage adaptation: first look at Daniel Portman and Tobi Bamtefa". WhatsOnStage.com. 30 September 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  7. ^ "The Last King of Scotland – morally flawed stage adaptation". The Observer. 6 October 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  8. ^ "The Last King of Scotland – Giles Foden". Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  9. ^ "The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden". PenguinRandomHouse.com. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Royal Society of Literature Web Archive". 14 June 2011. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2018.