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A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist…
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A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History (original 2009; edition 2011)

by Neil Oliver

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151179,164 (3.83)2
Member:BeFranks
Title:A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History
Authors:Neil Oliver
Info:Phoenix (2011), Paperback, 460 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading
Rating:***1/2
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A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History by Neil Oliver (2009)

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Although associated with a BBC TV programme, this is a very enjoyable and readable (if at times opinionated) account of the creation of the country we now call Scotland. It is especially good at explaining the early history (up to the seventeenth century) when various groups of people, tribes and kingdoms form and merge to produce the modern state of Scotland.

In particular, the introductory chapter about geography and geology, whilst it may now appear a well trodden approach to explaining the history of a country, does appear appropriate in explaining the lowland/highland and islands divide within the country.

Neil Oliver also tries admirably to trace the kings of Scotland as they consolidated their kingdom and the fashioning of a single nation from disparate elements, where loyalty in the highland and islands was more to the leader of the clan than a faraway king. Overall he achieved this for me, so that I have a far better understanding of Wallace’s status (a war leader and figure head), followed by the political manoeuvring of Robert the Bruce and then transfer to the House of Stuart (from steward), although this latter is not easy with five consecutive kings called James, most of whom seem to have died or been killed leaving their successor an infant, with affairs of state being managed by regents. There is then a break in the line of “James’s” for Mary, Queen of Scots (with an extremely brave attempt to briefly explain and describe her reign), before James VI, who also became King of England (by invitation). The irony of James VI becoming King of England, after successive English attempts to conquer Scotland, could have been lost on no one. Indeed, in part the creation of Scotland appears to have been to have to form a coherent opposition to England.

There is a lovely opinionated comment on the time of the Bruces: “That these serially duplicitous characters - the various Bruces included - avoided having their throats cut by some honest soul on one side or the other, is an enduring mystery to me.”

There is also much of interest on language, especially dying out of Pictish and Gaelic, and religion, with Scottish Presbyterianism and the Kirk being so different from the Church of England that came out of the reformation in England.

There is an excellent description of the flowering of Enlightenment ideas (especially David Hume and of course Adam Smith) and also the commercial ambitions of eighteenth century Scotland, leading up to the catastrophic commercial failure of the dream of a Scottish colony on the Gulf of Darien (the Panama Isthmus). Although, this felt like the cherry picking of the interesting parts of the period’s history, it did still show developments in Scotland.

However, I felt that Neil Oliver lost his way in the chapters on the history of Scotland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This may be inevitable as Scotland was so much a part of the United Kingdom during this period and, to me, the boring description of twentieth century politicians. Although fascinating in biographical detail, I also lost the point of Sir Walter Scott in the chapter on the nineteenth century; as although he may have been a major literary figure of the time and may have created our “romantic” idea of Scotland and highlanders, was this how the majority of Scottish people perceived themselves, rather than the perception of foreigners?

Also, what had been a good explanation of Scotland’s different religious history becomes woollier in the nineteenth century:
“But in 1843 a dispute over whether the right to appoint ministers should lie with the congregation or with the lay patrons of the parish escalated out of control. When the dust cleared, some 40 per cent of parishioners and an eighth of all ministers had walked out of their churches never to return. The rebels formed the Free Church of Scotland and the once-unifying presence of the Kirk was gone for ever.”
There follows a very brief note of the economic consequences of what was apparently called the Disruption, without sufficient explanation of what it meant for the Scottish people (if indeed it had great meaning for the history of the country, perhaps it didn’t).

Overall, a very interesting and engaging history of Scotland up to the seventeenth/eighteenth century, but you may want to skip/skim the final chapters. ( )
  CarltonC | Aug 6, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0753826631, Paperback)

Scotland's history gets a rewrite by archaeologist and historian Neil Oliver. How accurate are the accounts of Mary Queen of Scots's tragic demise or Bonnie Prince Charlie's forlorn cause? Oliver reveals a Scotland that forged its own identity with success, despite its union with England in 1707.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:20 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

'The beauty of Scotland is overwhelming and I've often thought that Scotland's popular history is just like her landscape - impossibly romantic, obscured by mist and myth and always changing.' The dramatic story of Scotland - by charismatic television historian, Neil Oliver.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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