Friday 13 January 2017

Book Review: A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver

Title: A History of Scotland
Author: Neil Oliver
Publisher: BBC Books
Publication Date: 2011 (2009)
Pages: 440
Format: Paperback
Genre: History / Non-Fiction
Source: Gift

Scotland's history has been badly served over the years. Defined by its relationship to England, Scotland's popular history is full of near-mythical figures and tragic events, her past littered with defeat, failure and thwarted ambition. The martyrdom of William Wallace, the tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots and the forlorn cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie all give the impression of 'poor' Scotland; a victim of misfortune, leading to the country's inevitable submission to the Auld Enemy. After the Union in 1707, Scotland's increasing reliance on England culminated in a crisis of confidence and identity that tortures the country to this day. But how accurate is this version of events? Using the very latest in historical research and by placing Scotland's story in the wider context of British, European and global history, some of the myths that pervade the past will be exploded to reveal a Scotland which forged its own destiny, often with success. (Goodreads Synopsis)

A History of Scotland is a delightful read that takes us from the country's initial formation to the modern day. Overall, I found it highly readable with its novel-like prose and Oliver's distinctive, chatty approach. I know my Scottish history reasonably well when it comes to the Stuart dynasty, but it was fascinating to learn more about the earlier rulers and traditions. The only places this work fell down for me, stopping me from awarding five stars, were the occasional forays into geology, which felt as if they belonged in another book entirely, and the fact that the twentieth century seemed rushed, crammed into a single chapter with events only afforded a paragraph each. I would have liked to have seen the same amount of detail for the latter decades as the centuries that had gone before. Those minor flaws aside, this is a book to check out if you are looking for a good overview of the history of Scotland and its people.

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