Monthly Archives: October 2013

October: the month of the history books

2014 will be a massive year for Scotland.

It’s Homecoming which means there’ll be literally hundreds of cultural and sporting events to welcome visitors to Scotland, plus lots of things to see, do, eat and drink! There are some major international sporting events, including not least the Ryder Cup, which is going home to where golf was founded at Gleneagles. Gleneagles obviously has huge history with golf, but also with the Ryder Cup, so 2014 is shaping up to be one of their biggest years. The Commonwealth Games are taking place in the summer which means athletes from all over the world will be gathering in Glasgow to compete for glory. It’s the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn – the one where Scotland won! It’s also when Robert the Bruce united the nation for the first time; interesting timing. It will also be 100 years since the start of the First World War, and there will be a host of events to commemorate this terrible anniversary.  And of course there’s a little matter of a referendum on the future of the political landscape of the nation and beyond – this time next year we’ll know whether the people of Scotland want to remain part of the United Kingdom or strike out on their own as an independent nation.

So before all of that kicks off, maybe it’s time for a little reflection on things past. As such, we’ve declared October the month of the history books. Here at Birlinn Ltd we have a long and proud tradition of publishing such books, especially those with a Scottish slant, so we’ve got a wealth of titles to choose from on our own list which is where our recommendations come from today. As always with this blog though, we’ll be broadening our horizons and bringing you the best from across the world of publishing in the next few weeks.

To kick off then, here are a few recommendations of some of our brand new releases, but every week we’ll be focusing on a different aspect of history, so stay tuned folks!

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Tapestry pbk

This summer’s must-see exhibition was the community arts project The Great Tapestry of Scotland. Bringing together the talents of Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat and artist Andrew Crummy, plus over 1000 stitchers from all over Scotland organised by superwoman Dorie Wilkie, the Tapestry covers the history of Scotland from prehistory to the present day in over 160 panels. Longer than the Bayeux Tapestry, it is an incredible thing to see and here is the book of the making of one of the biggest projects Scotland has ever seen! In The Great Tapestry of Scotland, The Making of a Masterpiece, Susan Mansfield and Alistair Moffat tell the story behind the finished work of art, and some of the individual tales are incredibly heart-warming.

Scottish Cookery

It’s Homecoming next year and nothing makes us feel more welcome than a bit of home-cooking, so here’s Catherine Brown’s classic Scottish Cookery. First published in 1985, this brand new edition has lost of none of the charm, or more importantly the excellent recipes. This is not just a cookery book however, it’s also a look at the history of food in Scotland, and the important relationship we have with our local produce that goes back centuries.

Jewel in the Glen

The Ryder Cup returns to Scotland next year, and more importantly, it returns to the home of golf itself, Gleneagles. The course and hotel have a long history associated with golf’s toughest contest, and the whole story is laid out in lavish detail in Jewel in the Glen by Ed Hodge. Ed is a former caddy himself, and knows the sport, the course and the competition inside out. The book, which was published in conjunction with the Gleneagles Resort, is full of interviews with professional golfers from past and present as well as people who have a connection to the hotel and competition, including Andy Murray and his family. Jack Nicklaus wrote the foreword, and if that isn’t enough to tempt you, then the hundreds of photos from the first competition onwards should do it!

Empire of Sand

2014 marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, one of the bloodiest and senseless conflicts of the modern era. ‘The war to end all wars’, was of course a complete misnomer and it led indirectly to the Second World War just a couple of decades later. It also led to a new world order and the formation of the League of Nations, and perhaps lesser known, the mandate system in the Middle East. Walter Reid’s seminal text, Empire of Sand outlines Britain’s role in shaping the modern state system in the Middle East in great detail for the first time. Looking at the formation of Iraq and Jordan, and the infamous drawing of lines in the sand to create new nations, Reid examines how far Britain can be held responsible for the resulting instability that still plagues the region today.

A New Race of Men, Scotland 1815-1914

Finally, we recommend Michael Fry’s brand new publication, A New Race of Men, Scotland 1815 – 1914. Fry is a hugely respected author and historian and in his new book he examines what he describes as Scotland’s greatest century. Bookended by the Napoleonic wars which ended in 1815, and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the intervening years saw an outpouring of creativity and inventiveness from Scotland – everything from combine harvesters to anaesthesia – and Scotland’s biggest contribution to the progress of mankind. Underneath the surface though, the nation was riven by urban poverty, environmental destruction, religious suppression and moral ambiguity. These contradictory faces of Scotland have had long lasting consequences on our national psyche and in the run up to the Referendum 2014 Fry’s book is an essential read.

Scotland’s Shame: A blog by John Ashton

Today sees the publication of Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Matters.


Author John Ashton is our guest blogger today. Below he talks about why this is such an important book.

Scotland’s Shame argues that Lockerbie is the biggest scandal of the country’s post-devolution era. It sets out the failures, distortions and evasions of both the country’s prosecution service the Crown Office and its government. At the heart of the scandal is a failure by the Crown to abide by basic standards of justice, in particular the principle that all relevant evidence to be disclosed to the defendants in criminal trials. Since the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission completed its review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction in 2007, it has become clear that the Crown Office failed to disclose numerous items of significant evidence. Indeed, on the basis of what it knew, or should have known, back in 1991, it should never have brought charges against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. As a consequence of these failings, the wrong man was convicted, the real killers went free and the Libyan people were made to suffer 7 years of sanctions, which destroyed their economy and threw millions into poverty. Continue reading