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The Crofter and the Laird: Life on an Hebridean Island

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  572 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
John McPhee wrote this in 1969, during the course of a stay in Colonsay, the home of his forebears. He put his children into the local school and lived quietly, recording his experiences in this blend of anthropology and art, capturing the tensions which both support and threaten a small community.
Paperback, 170 pages
Published 1998 by House of Lochar (first published 1970)
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(showing 1-30 of 981)
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Tony
Dec 27, 2015 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scottish
There was a toast among the clans when they banqueted. A clansman would rise, lift a cup, and say, "To the land of the bens and the glens!" And up from the food the faces would move, and every man would roar out, "To the land of the bens and the glens!"

Och, a toast to start.

Our current President dismisses any evidence which disagrees with his political positions by calling it 'anecdotal'. Sniff. But I live in a world where stuff trumps theory.* I learn from stuff, from passed-down legends, and t
...more
Rex Fuller
Aug 17, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it
A croft is less than a farm, only forty acres. The laird is the owner, in this case the owner of the entire island of Colonsay. Hear it from one of the islanders, "Some crofters don't work their crofts. They have a cow, a few sheep. That is all. My father was always one for working the croft. When I took it over, I kept it going. It's not right to let the land be neglected. I'm quite happy here. I make out, so long as the shore's handy and such like. But if you expect many things in life, crofti ...more
Bruce
Jun 03, 2011 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clan McPhee essentially came to an end on their home of Colonsay Island when the last clan chief was killed by rival clan MacDonald sometime before the fateful Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the assembled Highland clans were defeated by the English and the clans outlawed and permanently scattered. Colonsay is one of the Inner Hebrides, a small island of only seventeen square miles and now hardly more than 100 people 25 miles off the west coast of mainland Scotland. It is owned by the “Laird,” L ...more
Leigh
Jun 26, 2012 Leigh rated it it was amazing
This book is the one I always recommend to folks who've never read John McPhee. Short and lyrical, a lovely introduction to his writing.
Pat Carroll
Feb 24, 2015 Pat Carroll rated it it was amazing
McPhee is second only to Adam Gopnik in my non-fiction hall of fame; he is a precise, thoughtful observer of everyday life.

"The Crofter and the Laird" is about the people and the land on the stark Scots island of Colonsay, where the laird returns each summer to bask in the disregard of his tenants, the crofters.

As background, it would be worth reading at least the Wiki entry on the Highland Clearances, which eliminated the old Gaelic ways.

As contrast, have a look at the not-bad BBC series “Mo
...more
Marieke
May 13, 2012 Marieke rated it liked it
Recommended to Marieke by: Larry
I was going to re-read this for our trip to Colonsay in April. My impression after reading it was that things probably haven't changed all that much on the island since 1970.

The people are still resourceful and hold multiple jobs around the island. They are still vastly outnumbered by the ghosts of former inhabitants and by the 'nearly sixteen hundred place names' on Colonsay.

It's easy to forget about the present in a place like Colonsay and get immersed in the past -- fantastically vivid in a
...more
Nancy Jarvis
Sep 11, 2014 Nancy Jarvis rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge fan of John McPhee and just finished binge watching 57 episodes of Monarch of the Glen, a BBC production which ran from 2000 to 2005. It was marvelous to toggle back and forth between the program and The Crofter and the Laird.
Trond
Jun 15, 2016 Trond rated it it was amazing
I was hitch-hiking on the isle of Mull, the Hebrides, in the middle of May when a young couple gave me a lift. After exchanging views on interesting books, I was advised to read "The Crofter and the Laird" by John McPhee. So I did.
In its own genre I find it a very good book. John McPhee, a staff writer in "The New Yorker" decided to go with his family back to his ancestors tiny island Colonsay, the Hebrides, to live there for a time.
This book is extraordinary in its own more or less McPhee-in
...more
Marcia Zeigler
Jan 20, 2015 Marcia Zeigler rated it liked it
Planning our trip to Scotland in May and I always enjoy John McPhee...he finds so many stories in the details of geography and in every day life. His heritage is Scot from this island where he takes his family for what I think is a summer. He gets to know the people and their stories and the myths and stories of the island. It offered a good deal of insight into the issues of the Laird--rising costs, no industry on the island, children leaving to find work elsewhere....a dying form of life. Has ...more
Mark Hodgson
Nov 28, 2014 Mark Hodgson rated it it was amazing
Great little read.

It's titled like a novel, but it turns out its more of a travelogue. McPhee knows exactly what's important in traveling though. He is enamored of the people and the culture, and the conditions that typify the Scottish personality. He intertwines history and legend into the narratives of the people living on the island, and presents his research on the politics and culture in a very compelling, enjoyable way. What makes this worth reading is that the author knows how to write. I
...more
Jim
Sep 18, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it
Spend some time on a Scottish island. Interesting, well written.
Keri-Lynn
Oct 30, 2013 Keri-Lynn rated it really liked it
I enjoyed many aspects of this book but have two small issues with it. At times the author goes on and on with examples, giving more than I care to read. The other issue is that one needs to be familiar with more Scottish history and culture than is explained in the book to understand all of it. I didn't have that problem personally, but I know others would. On the plus side, the writing is spot on for objectivity. The information is presented, but not overly embellished or used to persuade the ...more
Sophie
Dec 15, 2008 Sophie rated it liked it
Very readable but also completely immoral. It is astonishing that the author thought it acceptable to befriend a group of people in order to secretly note down and then share their private conversations, without their knowledge or permission. He even uses their real names, including surnames. A complete betrayal of trust and confidence, and a cowardly invasion of privacy, for the sake of McPhee's own career... not very pretty. It is interesting, though, from that very point of view - an insight ...more
kxm
Oct 09, 2012 kxm rated it really liked it
As one of Scottish decent myself, I also have a curiosity about my ancestors & why & how they ended up here in the States. My dad is a huge fan of John McPhee & suggested that I read the 1st chapter of the book (he had just started it) because he thought I'd find it interesting. I did & he didn't get his book back for a few more days. I then proceeded to borrow another...

McPhee's writing is frequently described as "precise" and detailed, both of which seem apt to me. His sketches
...more
Andrewhouston
Sep 17, 2010 Andrewhouston rated it really liked it
While on vacation, my friend had a copy of The Paris Review magazine that had an interview with John McPhee about non-fiction writing. I thought he seemed like an interesting person and writer, and when I heard he wrote an account on living with a crofter on a Hebridean island, I had to find it. I have a personal fascination with Scotland and especially the Highlands. Even though McPhee had a distant personal connection to the Isle of Colonsay he did not sentimentalize the Islands/Highlands or i ...more
Scalacpa
Mar 29, 2015 Scalacpa rated it liked it
A lyrical, funny book that introduces you to the history of Scotland. This was on books to read for our Scotland trip. Although we will not be going to any of the islands in this book, it gave us the flavor of clans, island life and Scottish humor. I like John McPhee's writing. It reminds me of the writings of Irish authors. Observant, insightful and usually with a wee bit of humor.
RoyalSoulGypsy
Didn't finish.

My ancestry is part Scots and I hoped to learn about Scotland from this book, but it is about a the intimate community of a small, remote island off the coast of Scotland and the history doesn't really apply to me.

As always, McPhee's writing is descriptive and unique, but this time could not hold my interest to the end.
Marilyn
Mar 11, 2014 Marilyn rated it really liked it
For someone like me -- a person named McPhie who is planning a trip to the Hebridean island of Colonsay, this is a must-read. Life today (well, 1969) on the island of the author's ancestors. Chatty, clear-eyed, well-written. I especially enjoyed the last chapter about the local legends.
Karen
Jul 08, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
Scotland. John McPhee. What's not to love?. A glorious essay to read and savor. It was written in 1969, so would love to know what massive changes have happened on the inner Hebridean island of Colonsay since McPhee lived there for a year and wrote this piece. My only complaint is that it was too short!
Laura
Jan 27, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
What a wonderful book. You may have little or frankly no interest in the dwindling fortunes of an island community in the Hebrides, but I'm not sure that matters. You can love it just for the masterful writing. John McPhee is really unmatched when it comes to stringing thoughts together - both on the sentence level, and on the more macro-level of the text. And I love the way he resists stepping back and telling us, in a conspiratorial whisper, "Now here's what's really going on; here's what it a ...more
Gordon
Dec 05, 2014 Gordon rated it really liked it
More straight storytelling than any other McPhee I've read, with little but people to bind it, but his peerless prose craftsmanship, as always, offers profound refreshment from the sundry stylistic bumblers out there.
Nina Chambers
Jul 03, 2014 Nina Chambers rated it it was amazing
Rye & informative vignettes from the author's year spent on the Isle of Colonsay in the Western Hebrides, with his young family, where the author has ancestral roots.
Lisa
Aug 29, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and feel the same about everything he writes. He presents facts in such a way that you find yourself wanting to learn even more.
Moira
Jan 02, 2015 Moira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
McPhee's warm, unsparing eye turned on the particular Scottish island that happens to be my personal definition of heaven. Perfect.
Andrew Coates
Feb 18, 2016 Andrew Coates rated it it was ok
Relatively interesting account of a guy who goes to live on a island that's essentially still medieval in practice. Probably not for everyone though.
Mark
Jun 03, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: recentlyread
In the late 1960s, John McPhee ("Coming Into the Country" etc.) went to live for a time on the small Hebridean island of his Scottish ancestors, Colonsay. The resulting book (not really a memoir, since he wastes--if that's the right word--very few words on his own and his family's personal lives and feelings) is a spare, incisive, and starkly beautiful account of the history, culture, economy, and people he meets there. "Crofters" are, for the non-Caledonophiles out there, Scottish farmers who r ...more
Cindy
Mar 29, 2014 Cindy rated it really liked it
Good read, especially if you're taking a trip to these Scottish isles.
Julia Tracey
Jun 06, 2014 Julia Tracey rated it it was amazing
Excellent, charming, poetic, lyrical, inspiring. Lovely stuff.
Tim
Jan 17, 2010 Tim rated it it was amazing
Amid my suburban life I like reminders of the rural life (Perrin, Berry, Great Possessions), and John McPhee's return to his ancestral Scottish Hebridean Island Colonsay has some of that feel as well as the weight of history that Donald Hall's books about New Hampshire bring. He captures the island at a time of transition, with inhabitants remembering its history, gossiping about each other in the present, and worried about its future. He draws loving and detailed pictures of these people and th ...more
Kris
Sep 04, 2010 Kris rated it really liked it
John Mcphee can write about toilet paper and I would read it. In this non-fiction book, he writes about village life on the wee island of Colonsay in Scotland. The tie-in is that his family is also from Colonsay and he peppers the colorful tales with stories from his own family. What struck me about this book is the similarities between this far away island in 1970s (I think) Scotland and my own home town which is also pretty chock full of its own interesting “characters”. I simply could not put ...more
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more
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