Having never watched an entire episode of the sublime-voiced Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland (a situation I intend to remedy stat), I was really looking forward to reading his book about the same. Commencing his walk through time before the Big Bang (because, he explains, historians are often criticised for not going back far enough), Oliver takes the reader on a wild, breath-taking and heart-breaking ride through the mists and mountains of Scotland – the rugged Highlands, green-hilled lowlands and mirror-surfaced lochs; from the time of the earliest peoples to the Romans, Angles, Britons, Picts, Saxons, and all the others who laid claim to the magnificent and difficult land that came to be known as Scotland.
From the first King (Kenneth) to the trials and tribulations of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, the claims of the “Pretenders” to the throne, the ambivalent relationship with England, its people and its crown, the butchery, bravery and stupidity of Culloden, to the advent of slavery, growth of wealth (for a few), loss of language and identity, woes and hardship of famine, Clearances, British indifference and paternalism, unionism, and the blight and triumph of war and political machinations, the damage of Thatcherism, immigration and so much more. Oliver crams it all into these 367 pages.
Poetic, moving, exciting, heart-wrenching – much like the beautiful country and its amazing hardy people, this is a terrific book that reads more like a wonderful work of fiction half the time (or you wish it was), rather than the brutal, unapologetic reality it is. Never apologising, but always trying to contextualise and understand what made the Scots who they were and are today, the iconic people who played major roles in forming its social cultural and political landscape as well as the clans and workers who kept its heart beating, Oliver leaves no stone (including the rock/s upon which the country is built) unturned. Exposing the greed, enterprising spirit, creative and artistic endeavours, as well as boldness, foolishness and so much more of those hailing from all walks of life as well as every shore and island as well as city that forms Scotland, this is a marvellous introduction to the country and its rich and vibrant history and people – a people so many of us (including me) have descended from.
Having finished it, I can’t wait now to watch the series and enjoy this wild and haunting tale all over again, this time with magnificent scenery and imagery to support it.
Highly recommended for lovers of history, Scotland and cultural adventurers who enjoy an unforgettable read.