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Scotland: The Story of a Nation Hardcover – September 2, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Near Stirling, Scotland, stands a memorial to the warrior William Wallace, put to death at the orders of the English king Edward I in 1305. Within that memorial stands a glass case, and inside of it stands a broadsword 1.7 meters long. Legend has it that the hero himself wielded the weapon, and so "Wallace's Sword" it is.

Magnus Magnusson, a native of Iceland who has long lived in and written about Scotland, may spoil it for some readers when he writes that Wallace's Sword probably wasn't Wallace's. To use it, Wallace would have had to have stood at least 6-foot-6 in height and to have lived two centuries later. The business of the sword is just one of the "cherished conceptions" about Scottish history that Magnusson picks apart and then, corrected and improved, restores. At other turns he considers the true identity of the legendary king Macbeth (and entertains some surprising but plausible theories about the king's alter ego); reconstructs decisive battles such as Otterburn, Flodden, and Glencoe; and looks closely at the complicated negotiations (and, many would say, treacheries) that led to the union with England of 1707. Magnusson closes with an account of modern independence movements and the recent return of some measure of national autonomy, opening a "new chapter in a nation's story, which the people of Scotland are now beginning to write."

Lucid, witty, and unafraid of controversy, Magnusson's book does a fine job of condensing a complex history, stretching out for 10 millennia, into a single volume. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

This overly heroic history of Scotland focuses almost exclusively on royalty and warfare. Loosely patterned after Sir Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather (1827-1829), Magnusson's (The Vikings) narrative purports to describe Scotland from the Stone Age to the present. Yet his omissions are breathtaking. What of Scotland's amazing (for its size) achievements during the European Enlightenment? Adam Smith is mentioned once, the seminal philosopher David Hume twice in passing. We're treated to a dozen pages about the Battle of Falkirk (wherein England's implacable King Edward I defeated William Wallace in 1298) and its aftermath. But Magnusson never mentions Scotland's central role in the Industrial Revolution, when Glasgow emerged as a global industrial center ("industry" isn't even listed in the index). Magnusson's narrative reads like a medieval saga, filled with swashbuckling tales of kings and battlefield heroics, leaving the reader to wonder how the average person lived. That said, he does emphasize some crucial themes in Scottish history: its constant struggle with hegemonic England, the problems of royal succession and how they led to national instability, and the bloody conflict between Church and State, especially during the reign of the Stuarts. Former chairman of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, Magnusson deftly describes Scotland's geopolitical heritage. He also works hard to dispel some myths, taking particular aim at the film Braveheart and Shakespeare's Macbeth. Magnusson's critical problem, however, is that once he runs out of Scottish kings (circa 1745), he runs out of steam. Still, while hardly definitive, this is worthwhile for those with an interest in early Scottish history. Color & b&w illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 734 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (September 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137982
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"History on the hoof" is how Magnus Magnusson describes his approach to the massive subject of the history of Scotland. This dynamic work encompasses the geology, prehistory, ethnicities, politics and cultural events that are all elements in the answer to the question, "What does it mean to be Scots?"
The story begins with a description of how the distinctive terrain of the land evolved. The craggy shoreline, outlying islands and Highland hills were key factors in who came to live in Scotland and what they had to do to defend it, starting with Scotland's first tribes. Mr. Magnusson gives a lively account of the Picts, Scots, Gaels and Britons who skirmished among themselves until they banded together to fight Viking invaders from the north and, later, Roman invaders from the south. Scotland has always seen its share of warfare, largely from England. Independence from England has been a constant struggle for Scotland and recounting its battles introduces a wealth of fascinating characters from William Wallace (whose adventures and sorry ending readers may remember from the film Braveheart) through the unlucky Stewarts. We also meet the real-life MacBeth; his chapter details his ill-starred rise to power and notes the differences between the actual history and the story we all know from Shakespeare's play.
However, if there is a literary figure that serves as an illuminating spirit for SCOTLAND: The Story of a Nation, that person must be Sir Walter Scott. One of Scotland's most successful novelists, with twenty-seven historical romances concerning Scotland to his credit, he wrote a history of Scotland and dedicated it to his grandson. Excerpts from TALES OF A GRANDFATHER begin every chapter of SCOTLAND and Mr.
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Format: Hardcover
For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. It was well written very interesting. My only major criticism of this book is in what it left out. The book does a wonderful job relating the history of Scotland up to and including the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46. Anything since that point is largely ignored. The author was loosely following Sir Walter Scott's example in Tales from a Grandfather which ends at that point in Scottish history. A couple more chapters discussing the Scottish enlightenment and modern Scottish history would have made this book perfect. Nonetheless, I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in an introduction to Scottish history.
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Format: Hardcover
I am very glad I read this book. It was a very readable and enjoyable history of Scotland. The book was so good, I am tempted to make a return trip to Scotland. This book was that inspiring.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on the Romans in Scotland, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I was a little upset as to the lack of information about the enlightenment in Scotland. But other than that, this was a great book.
It was very readable, with new information, and some great quotes.
This was a great book, I wished it had more, but none the less, it was a great purchase and time well spent.
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Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed Magnusson's Scotland, right up until the epilogue. That portion of this otherwise fine book ruined it. Here's why: The bulk of the book is a very readable, informative one-volume history. As opposed to the thoughts of other reviewers, I think this book is a good place to START a study of Scottish history. It helpfully weaves seemingly disparate eras into a coherent epic of the land and its people, hitting all the right points briefly but cogently. There are numerous references to unfamiliar places (to Americans), but that merely caused me to do side research to establish geographical context. The same thing I do in reading any book. You don't read to discover things you already know, after all.

The book is inspired by, and consistently references, Sir Walter Scott and his own Scottish history. It works very well, using Scott's work as a launching point, both complementing it and critiquing it. After working through the 1745 rising, Magnusson brought the story full circle by dedicating a touching chapter to Scott himself.

Then came the epilogue. Magnusson ran roughshod over 200 years of history, choosing only to stop and dwell on unsuccessful and largely forgettable movements to regain Scottish "independence." Industrial revolution? Moving on. War years? Meh. On the other hand, Magnusson lauded the machinations of various Marxist agitators, and could barely conceal his glee with such puerile episodes as the theft of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. It was like listening to an old hippie waxing sentimental about the Weathermen while sipping Opus One in his McMansion.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read many books on the history of scotland, and this is by far one of the best on the main characters who have shaped this nation. It does not cover as many events as other books, but does give a good beginning background into the history of Scotland. The book is written in more of a story telling fashion, and makes it very readable and entertaining.
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