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The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History Hardcover – July 16, 2008

2.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is one sly hoot of a book."—Laurel Maury, Los Angeles Times
(Laurel Maury Los Angeles Times 2008-07-13)

"As with so many of the tales Trevor-Roper has to tell, the truth may not be as romantic as the legend, but its irony  makes it no less compelling."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun
(Adam Kirsch New York Sun 2008-07-23)

"The aim of this wonderful work of scholarship and literary wit is to show how the 'customs and costumes of the Scottish Highlands'. . .were reinvented, embellished, and extended to embrace all of Scotland and her glorious history. . . . [A] marvelous book."—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe
(Katherine A. Powers Boston Globe 2008-07-13)

"This last book displays a fine wit. . . . Its publication makes a welcome tribute to a fine historian as well as his last word on the imagined past."—William Anthony Hay, The Washington Times
(William Anthony Hay The Washington Times 2008-07-27)

"The real pleasure of this posthumous effusion is the sheer joy the author evinces in showing off generous measures of tendentiousness and his undoubted historical bona fides."—The Atlantic
(The Atlantic 2008-11-01)

"Delightful."—Robert Landrum, The Historian
(Robert Landrum The Historian)

About the Author

The late Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre of Glanton) was Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford and a prolific scholar. His last book, Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne, was published by Yale University Press in 2006.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (July 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300136862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300136869
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,909,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a touchy subject given the rise of nationalism in Scotland in recent years, which has been accompanied by an interest in promoting Scottish "distinctiveness" from England and the rest of the UK, but it is certainly worth a read. Trevor-Roper's careful research, which spans multiple decades, shows that in fact much of what we casually assume to be "authentic" Scottish culture is in fact quite exaggerated, if not outright historical fiction. There are three founding myths of Scotland that receive particular attention:

First, the myth of the "Scottish constitution," in which a sort of constitutional monarchy existed in Scotland in pre-UK times (and which is reinforced in the movie Braveheart, in which the Scots are portrayed as fighting for "freedom"), is debunked. The notion of a strong national identity, stretching from the Highlands to Lowlands, which was wrapped up in a kind of genetic love of democracy, is in fact shown to be an anachronism.

Second, the author presents evidence that the works attributed to Ossian, the supposed ancient Scottish answer to Homer, are pretty convincingly shown to be a forgery, though nevertheless accepted as genuine by many of a nationalistic bent. Fingal, Ossian's seminal work, turns out to contain numerous echoes of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, among others.

Third, the topic of dress. Nowadays the kilt is understood to be the quintessentially "Scottish" article of clothing. Readers will be surprised to learn that, as the author documents, the kilt appears to have been invented by an Englishman for his employees, while the precise clan-based tartan identification system was invented by a pair of brothers in 1842.
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Format: Paperback
Those who give one-star reviews to The Invention of Scotland must be cranky kilt-wearing folks with peat chips on their shoulders and empty porridge bowls, who are irritated by phrases like this: ". . . for the sea, in so wild and mountainous an archipelago, unites rather than divides; and western Scotland was an extension of Ulster long before Ulster became an extension of western Scotland." Trevor-Roper wrote the lovely well-documented prose once associated with educated historians. I'm only up to the year 1582 and I love this book. Going back to Dalriada.
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Format: Hardcover
Though Roper's work in other fields has been rightly criticised I can find no fault here. Popular Scottish history is indeed very, very heavily romanticised and politicised. Roper exposes only some of the national fantasy - there is so much more bunkum that he could have written about - enough for two more volumes at least.
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Format: Paperback
HTR writes in TIoS that Scotland was a place where things were invented in one form or another to satisfy a nationalist void.

The premise of his book TIoS is that Scotland is great. The trouble is, nobody knew it. For most people, i.e. the English, ancient Scotland was a barbaric place devoid of culture, civilization and history. Starting in the 1400s Scottish historians, philosophers and writers set out to document a long, ancient and valid Scottish lineage. When none existed, history, literature and even dress of the Scots were "invented" and myths surrounding these societal fundamentals were developed, strongly embraced, and perpetuated.
TIoS is well written and documented extensively. The literary myth and ensuing controversy surrounding James MacPherson and Ossian took up a tedious majority of the book. It was disappointing, given the depth of detail, that the author did not include a single line or excerpt of Ossian/Macpherson's work. I wish that there were a couple of illustrations of original Highland dress. The author's descriptions were good, but I would like to see what the original costume, especially the belted plaid, looked like. A map of Scotland also would have been helpful.

The book left me thoughtful. Now I wonder about our own and other countries' glorious national inventions. It was told in a respectful and very knowledgeable way. It was trudging at times, often bogged down and dry, needed a better editor.
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