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A Rum Affair

Natural History, True Crime
Publication Date
16 June 2016
Paperback (also available as an ebook)
Available for Sale
Birlinn Ltd
8pp b/w plates

A Rum Affair

A True Story of Botanical Fraud
by Karl Sabbagh - Find out more about the author


eBook also available from the iBookstore

‘one of the best books we have read in quite some time. Reading this book is like reading an extremely well written fictional thriller. Karl Sabbagh has done an amazing job unearthing the background to what happened, and drawing out the wider implications for science in society' – Undiscovered Scotland

‘a truly ripping yarn involving night-time landings, threats and intimidation, and at the heart of it something rather sad – a scientist, clearly of great talent, who had overstepped the mark in helping 'proof' along’ – Bottle Imp

Selected by Alexander McCall Smith as his top summer holiday read in the Observer newspaper.

In the 1940s, the eminent British botanist John Heslop Harrison proposed a controversial theory: that vegetation on the islands off the west coast of Scotland had survived the last Ice Age. His premise flew in the face of what most botanists believed – that no plants had survived the 10,000-year period since the last ice age. But Heslop Harrison had proof – the plants and grasses found on the isle of Rum.

Harrison didn’t anticipate, however, an amateur botanist called John Raven, who boldly questioned whether these grasses were truly indigenous to the area, or whether they had been transported there. This is the story of what happened when a tenacious amateur set out to find out the truth, and how he uncovered a most extraordinary fraud.

This new revised edition also features a foreword by Adam Nicolson.

Karl Sabbagh is a writer, journalist and TV producer. He is the author of a dozen books, including The Living Body (with Christian Barnaard), Power into Art and Palestine: A Personal Journey.

Adam Nicolson has worked as a journalist for The Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph, and writes regularly for National Geographic Magazine. He has written a number of highly acclaimed books including Sea Room.