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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.

Top Rugby Books

While the Rugby Championship is in full flow in the southern hemisphere, the last few weeks has seen the start of the northern hemisphere rugby season. After the epic Lions tour to Hong Kong and Australia, the start of the new season had the potential to feel like a bit of a damp squib.

Not so. Controversy reigns supreme. After signing a £150 million deal with BT Sport to televise all their matches, the English clubs have joined forces with their French counterparts to demand a restructuring to the Heineken European Cup.

They have served notice to the current competition and have stated that they will refuse to play in the current structure after this season. While offering to open the doors to their newly proposed Anglo-French club competition to those in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, they will only allow the top placed sides in the RaboDirect Pro 12 (in which the clubs from these four countries play) to qualify for the new competition – as opposed to the meritocracy that currently exists.

Quite how this will pan out remains to be seen and there is no doubt that the future prosperity of northern hemisphere rugby is on the line

Beyond the club game, the autumn internationals are fast approaching – and there are as many questions to be posed as ever. After their crushing defeat to Wales in the Six Nations Grand Slam decider, will England continue the progress they made in the summer on their tour to Argentina and will they be able to scale the heady heights they reached during last autumn’s incredible victory over the world champions, New Zealand?

With a team chock full of Lions stars, will Wales overcome their usual autumn malaise and stamp their authority on the southern hemisphere giants? Will Ireland enter a new golden era under the guidance of former Leinster supremo Joel Schmidt and give Brian O’Driscoll the swansong he deserves in his final season as an international? And will Scotland be able to build on the promise shown in the Six Nations and on their summer tour to South Africa? Time will tell – and to keep the excitement of this all bubbling along, there are some fantastic new books out now and coming soon to keep you in the mood between fixtures.

The brightest and best rugby books to look out for


Behind the Lions. This sumptuous hardback has been updated to include a new chapter on the Lions’ historic series victory over Australia. It is by far the most engaging history ever written of the Lions – largely because it is told in the players’ words. With four renowned authors from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, this account gets right to the heart of what it means to be a Lion.

Following a tour like this, there are a raft of related books, here are the best of the rest:

  • Rampant Pride by Mick Cleary and Ian Robertson
  • Matt Dawson’s Lions Tales by Matt Dawson
  • 125 Years of the British and Irish Lions: The Official History by Clem Thomas and Greg Thomas
  • Becoming a Lion by Johnny Sexton

The Real McCaw

After a six month sabbatical, Richie McCaw returned for New Zealand for their opening Rugby Championship game against the Wallabies – and it was like he had never been away. More than that, seeing him fly around the field it was like seeing the Richie McCaw from ten years ago – but with all those years of experience added into the mix. With New Zealand’s most capped player still going strong, sit back and enjoy the thoughts of the World Cup winning captain in his autobiography, The Real McCaw.

White Gold: England’s Journey to Rugby World Cup Glory

White Gold paints a unique new portrait of the World Cup campaign

White Gold paints a unique new portrait of the World Cup campaign

22nd November 2013 marks the ten year anniversary of England winning the Rugby World Cup. To celebrate one of the finest achievements in the history of British sport, White Gold: England’s Journey to Rugby World Cup Glory is published on 1st November. White Gold paints a unique new portrait of the World Cup campaign, analysing head coach Clive Woodward’s life and career and the influences that shaped his rugby philosophies which, in turn, shaped the environment he built for his England players as they pushed to become the world’s number one team. In a style reminiscent of Tom English’s The Grudge, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Alan English’s Stand Up and Fight and John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy, it offers in-depth profiles for each of the key players in the team, pits scientific studies into the 10,000 hour rule alongside those of nature versus nurture and examines the broad range of management techniques that Woodward and his back-room team employed in their quest to drive England to the pinnacle of the rugby world.

Celebrate another incredible summer of sport with these sports books

After the golden summer of 2012 many wondered if such a year of sporting triumph could ever be matched. Incredibly, 2013 looks set to do just that. From Justin Rose winning the US Open, to the British & Irish Lions first triumph in 16 years with their Test series win over Australia, to Andy Murray ending 77 years of hurt with his victory at Wimbledon; Chris Froome following team mate Wiggins into the maillot jaune and the annals of history at the Tour de France, and England’s demolition of Australia in the Ashes, an annus mirabilis has come round again. Continue reading