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The Crofter and The Laird by John McPhee
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The Crofter and The Laird (edition 1982)

by John McPhee (Author)

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373749,718 (3.73)13
When John McPhee returned to the island of his ancestors--Colonsay, twenty-five miles west of the Scottish mainland--a hundred and thirty-eight people were living there. About eighty of these, crofters and farmers, had familial histories of unbroken residence on the island for two or three hundred years; the rest, including the English laird who owned Colonsay, were "incomers." Donald McNeill, the crofter of the title, was working out his existence in this last domain of the feudal system;the laird, the fourth Baron Strathcona, lived in Bath, appeared on Colonsay mainly in the summer, and accepted with nonchalance the fact that he was the least popular man on the island he owned. While comparing crofter and laird, McPhee gives readers a deep and rich portrait of the terrain, the history, the legends, and the people of this fragment of the Hebrides.… (more)
Member:kevinpars
Title:The Crofter and The Laird
Authors:John McPhee (Author)
Info:Farrar, Straus & Giroux (1982), Edition: Later Printing
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The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee

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I was in a delightful little indy bookstore in the Scottish town of Fort William when I encountered The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee, a 153 page quick read that originally appeared in “The New Yorker.” The book describes the geography and sociology of a small (17 square miles) island (Colonsay), about 25 miles off the West Coast of Scotland to which the author had traced his ancestry. One hundred and thirty-eight people still lived on that island in 1969, when the book was written.

I could hardly pass up the book since my wife and I were scheduled the next day to visit the Isle of Skye, a somewhat larger island a few miles north of Colonsay. McPhee describes a close-knit, insular society little changed from the 18th century. Families on the island trace their progenitors back centuries, but with no industry and few jobs, the islanders fear their island may become uninhabited like Pabby, Sandray, Taransay, Scarba, Soay, Mingulay, and St. Kilda - other now unpopulated islets in the Hebrides.

Land ownership and legal relationships on the island are nearly feudal, with a single landlord (the Laird) owning nearly the entire place. Tenant farmers (the crofters) work the land and pay rent to the Laird. The island is home to just a few professionals who handle all the lawyering and doctoring needed.

McPhee has an exceptionally good eye for detail, and his descriptions of the colorful residents of Colonsay give the reader a comprehensive sense of their unusual, if constricted, existence. This is not one of McPhee’s best or most interesting books, but it was very timely and topical for me on my Scotland vacation

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Aug 11, 2019 |
I recommend reading this in tandem with Sea Room by Adam Nicholson; the author of which is himself the laird of a Scottish island.
  sonofcarc | Mar 27, 2016 |
An interesting series of anecdotes about life on Colonsay, written in the 1960s. I was expecting a book in the "family moves to unusual place and struggles to adapt to life there" line, but that's not what McPhee has written. An enjoyable read, probably only suitable for those with a real interest in Scotland. ( )
  cazfrancis | Nov 3, 2013 |
Spend some time on a Scottish island. Interesting, well written. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Sep 25, 2009 |
McPhee has an engaging, conversational tone that is at once easy to read as well as instructive. Additionally, my library’s copy of the book contained beautiful pen and ink drawings by James Graves. The book is less a travel essay than an ethnography, as he delves into the history, myths, and community of Colonsay. Along the way he investigates, celebrates and debunks a great deal. ( )
2 vote Girl_Detective | Jan 14, 2009 |
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When John McPhee returned to the island of his ancestors--Colonsay, twenty-five miles west of the Scottish mainland--a hundred and thirty-eight people were living there. About eighty of these, crofters and farmers, had familial histories of unbroken residence on the island for two or three hundred years; the rest, including the English laird who owned Colonsay, were "incomers." Donald McNeill, the crofter of the title, was working out his existence in this last domain of the feudal system;the laird, the fourth Baron Strathcona, lived in Bath, appeared on Colonsay mainly in the summer, and accepted with nonchalance the fact that he was the least popular man on the island he owned. While comparing crofter and laird, McPhee gives readers a deep and rich portrait of the terrain, the history, the legends, and the people of this fragment of the Hebrides.

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