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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The…
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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western… (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Arthur Herman (Author)

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2,301325,740 (3.8)27
An exciting account of the origins of the modern world Who formed the first literate society? Who invented our modern ideas of democracy and free market capitalism? The Scots. As historian and author Arthur Herman reveals, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland made crucial contributions to science, philosophy, literature, education, medicine, commerce, and politics--contributions that have formed and nurtured the modern West ever since. Herman has charted a fascinating journey across the centuries of Scottish history. Here is the untold story of how John Knox and the Church of Scotland laid the foundation for our modern idea of democracy; how the Scottish Enlightenment helped to inspire both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution; and how thousands of Scottish immigrants left their homes to create the American frontier, the Australian outback, and the British Empire in India and Hong Kong. How the Scots Invented the Modern World reveals how Scottish genius for creating the basic ideas and institutions of modern life stamped the lives of a series of remarkable historical figures, from James Watt and Adam Smith to Andrew Carnegie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and how Scottish heroes continue to inspire our contemporary culture, from William "Braveheart" Wallace to James Bond. And no one who takes this incredible historical trek will ever view the Scots--or the modern West--in the same way again.… (more)
Member:KaiHebberecht
Title:How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It
Authors:Arthur Herman (Author)
Info:Crown (2002), Edition: Reprint, 480 pages
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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman (2001)

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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Although I enjoyed reading this, I think it would have been a better book with a narrower focus. I enjoyed learning about the Scottish Enlightenment and would have enjoyed more depth on that but it started including a great many other topics that started to feel less and less connected to the Enlightenment period and by the the end it felt more like a collection of potted biographies of famous Scottish people.
  amyem58 | Dec 19, 2021 |
This was a pretty cool book. I think the title's a bit over the top, but Scots really did have a huge influence on the modern world. Hell, just look at the U.S. Constitution -- it wouldn't have been even remotely the same without the ideas of Scots such as Adam Smith and David Hume.

There are lots of Scots covered in this book, everyone from Dr. Livingstone to Andrew Carnegie. Unfortunately, all of them are men. There are references to nameless groups of women, like the ones hired in textile mills, but none by name. Were there no Scottish women worth mentioning? Oh, wait, the book does mention one duchess. But that's it.

Still, it was enjoyable and informative, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in Scottish history. ( )
  SwitchKnitter | Dec 19, 2021 |
possibly a little overstated on the influence of Scottish political and economic thought, but a good read
  ritaer | Jul 24, 2021 |
Cosma Shalizi once wrote a fascinating blog post titled "The Singularity in Our Past Light-Cone" musing how the much-discussed Singularity that Kurzweil and company have made careers out of promoting has actually already happened - it was called the Industrial Revolution, and it was over before World War I. The Industrial Revolution was a saltation nearly unmatched by anything in human history save maybe fire or agriculture, and one of the commentaries on that post dredged up an apropos Nietzsche quote: "The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw."

Perhaps no single culture made as many or as crucial contributions to all of those elements of the Industrial Revolution as as the Scottish, even as they began the 18th century as one of the poorest, most miserable peoples in Europe. This history of their involvement in that leap is a story of people, not data, which might increase its appeal to casual history fans (or simply ethnic Scots looking for a pat on the back - I'm a quarter Scottish on my father's side and that element certainly doesn't hurt), but although Herman succeeds in presenting a lot of good background information, as well as restoring a lot of Scottish Enlightenment figures to the prominent places they deserve, I don't think this is as satisfying work as could have been.

One reason is that Herman is not as analytical about the causes of Scotland's transformation as I expected. The book is primarily a paean to the character of the nation, which is fine, but it would have been nice to see not only a bit more data (i.e., exactly how over-represented were Scots in the echelons of of the British Empire) but more comparison to other nations, even if only Ireland and Wales. It's all very well to gloat over kilt power, but I'm not sure the majority of readers would read this book and come away having a clear idea of the exact steps aside from a focus on education the Scots took to get where they did, or, to put it another way, if the steps that they did take were generalizable to anything other than their specific historical/geographical position. Invest in education, get absorbed by a mostly aloof yet indulgent brother nation next door, insert your countrymen into key positions in the new union's administrative machinery, profit? A key sentence states that after England bailed out Scotland after the disastrous Darien colonization scheme, "Scots ended up with the best of both worlds: peace and order from a strong administrative state, but freedom to develop and innovate without undue interference from those who controlled it.". Why exactly didn't Scotland suffer the fate of Ireland?

Another place where the lack of comparison is keenly felt is in the section discussing the differing effects of the Scottish diaspora on the United States and Canada. There's some nods to David Hackett Fisher's theories, most memorably chronicled in Albion's Seed, of how the distinct culture of the Scotch-Irish differentiated the Appalachian territories where they settled from the rest of America, but even though Herman does vaguely theorize that American-bound Scots were more individualistic and less bureaucratic than the ones who went to Canada, there's no attempt to quantify this or say what it meant to the characters of the countries (I've spent a lot of time in heavily Scottish-influenced provinces like Ontario, so it jumped out at me). I can't help but compare this section unfavorably to a book like Isabel Wilkerson's magnificent The Warmth of Other Suns that discusses the Great Migration of African-Americans north in the early 20th century, with plenty of both personal narratives and hard data on what changing demographics meant to culture, industry, and character.

One more issue I had with the book is that all too often Herman will drop ex cathedra pronouncements on history that are either flat-out wrong or amateurish, unworthy of a serious historian. You can't expect a book cheerleading an ethnic group to be completely neutral about world history, but when the dusty old bones of Edmund Burke get hauled out to "prove" that the French Revolution "went too far", all you can do is roll your eyes and wish that an editor had advised Herman to leave that sort of thing to people who specialize in it. I get that he really likes some of these figures, and it's fine if he agrees with their opinions, but he isn't very artful about expressing his own point of view. Sometimes he also misses what would seem to be enlightening context. One example is during his discussion of Sir Walter Scott - Mark Twain famously blamed Scott's novels for prompting the Civil War by deluding Southerners with unrealistic ideals of chivalry and honor. Right or wrong, that would have been very interesting to investigate, given how much space Herman spends pointing out Scottish influence in other places. I also caught an outright error where he stated that Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal cost a billion pounds; the actual figure is slightly less than a million pounds, but what's a factor of a thousand between friends?

The major strength of the book is simply that it puts all in one place an impressive parade of luminaries that most people will not have consciously thought of as Scottish. Philosophers like Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume; writers like Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and James MacPherson; and inventors like James Watt, Samuel Morse, and Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie achieved amazing things, and there are plenty of other less famous people Herman profiles that don't get the respect from history that they might deserve. Herman's focus on the Industrial Revolution causes him to miss or relegate to the Conclusion some Scotsmen who would otherwise have deserved some more space, such as James Clerk Maxwell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barrie, or Ian Fleming, but otherwise it feels like he covered just about everyone (except for John Buchan, a favorite of mine who is sorely missed here), and while inevitably the capsule biographies often elide important information or present a particular point of view, this is probably unavoidable in any short history.

I finished this book right before Scotland held its long-awaited independence referendum, so it's clear that the Scottish themselves are ambivalent about their place in the British Empire and the UK. I would be remiss in not mentioning that famous meditation on Scottish nationalism in the movie Trainspotting:

Tommy: Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?
Mark: It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to be colonized BY. We're ruled by effete assholes. It's a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference! ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Terrible title but fascinating book. Almost avoided due to the hyperbole but glad I didn't. Eras connect seamlessly and everything makes sense and the book explained a lot I didn't understand about Scotland. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
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Epigraph
Is it not strange that at a time when we have lost our Princes, our Parliaments, our independent government, even the Presence of our chief Nobility, are unhappy in our accent and pronunciation, speak a very corrupt Dialect of the Tongue which we make use of, I say, that in these Circumstances, we shou'd really be the People most distinguished for Literature in Europe? -David Hume, 1757 (Part One: Epiphany)
The constant influx of information and of liberality from abroad, which was thus kept up in Scotland in consequence of the ancient habits and manners of the people, may help to account for the sudden burst of genius, which to a foreigner must seem have sprung up in this country by a sort of enchantment, soon after the Rebellion of 1745. -Dugald Stewart (Part One: Epiphany)
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People of Scottish descent are usually proud about their history and achievements.
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The Tron Church stands on Edinburgh's High Street, almost at the midpoint of the Royal Mile, which rises to Edinburgh Castle at one end and slopes down to Holyrood Palace at the other.
Chapter One
Just as the German Reformation was largely the work of a single individual, Martin Luther, so the Scottish Reformation was the achievement of one man of heroic will and tireless energy: John Knox.
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An exciting account of the origins of the modern world Who formed the first literate society? Who invented our modern ideas of democracy and free market capitalism? The Scots. As historian and author Arthur Herman reveals, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland made crucial contributions to science, philosophy, literature, education, medicine, commerce, and politics--contributions that have formed and nurtured the modern West ever since. Herman has charted a fascinating journey across the centuries of Scottish history. Here is the untold story of how John Knox and the Church of Scotland laid the foundation for our modern idea of democracy; how the Scottish Enlightenment helped to inspire both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution; and how thousands of Scottish immigrants left their homes to create the American frontier, the Australian outback, and the British Empire in India and Hong Kong. How the Scots Invented the Modern World reveals how Scottish genius for creating the basic ideas and institutions of modern life stamped the lives of a series of remarkable historical figures, from James Watt and Adam Smith to Andrew Carnegie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and how Scottish heroes continue to inspire our contemporary culture, from William "Braveheart" Wallace to James Bond. And no one who takes this incredible historical trek will ever view the Scots--or the modern West--in the same way again.

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Presents interesting ideas on how from Scotland many ideas underlying Liberalism and modern capitalism were developed.
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