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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It
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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,496 ratings  ·  257 reviews
Who formed the first modern nation?
Who created the first literate society?
Who invented our modern ideas of democracy and free market capitalism?
The Scots.

Mention of Scotland and the Scots usually conjures up images of kilts, bagpipes, Scotch whisky, and golf. But as historian and author Arthur Herman demonstrates, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland earned
ebook, 480 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Broadway Books (first published 2001)
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Jan 17, 2013 Rowena rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History-lovers
Shelves: scottish-lit, history
Fascinating book about the impact Scotland has had on the world.

Most Scottish people are familiar with the poem, Wha's Like Us, which lists many Scottish inventions and innovations. Link here :

Reading this book made me appreciate even more how much the Scots have impacted the world with the little they had and with the tragedies they experienced. I learned a few interesting facts:

- One thing that the Scottish, Irish and English could agree on was their h
The first three quarters of this book are absolutely amazing, showing how the Scottish Enlightenment period essentially created all modern political and philosophical teachings in the modernized world.

The book goes in to wonderful historical detail about brilliant individuals who were the product of a social program to bring education to everyone at a time when most people in Europe were illiterate. It discusses such brilliant philosophers as David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as great inventors
To be completely honest, it's hard to find a better written book out there, regardless of the obviously hyperbolic title. This text was so fastidiously researched, so utterly fascinating, and so easy to read that I can't fathom another work that could do the job better. Herman backs up his incredible title with myriad evidence that really supports how Scottish blood has invigorated and established some of the best concepts and inventions that have come out of the past three centuries or so. He s ...more
Consider the title of this book:How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. (The word "true" is something of a give away.)

The reader can't take it seriously, and apparently neither did its author. As Herman admits (page 278), "an important secret in publishing, that information is made more memorable when it is tinged with bias." How the Scots was marinated in bias. For all that, it's an entertaining rom
Sarah Finch
I was very disappointed by this. It's a solid and mildly entertaining book, but Herman's title and thesis are woefully inadequate. When he says "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" it is more like "How Scottish Men Made Great Contributions to the English-Speaking World." Any definition of the modern world that rests solely on Britain and America (with cursory nods to Canada and Australia) is one that is laughable. Herman doesn't even frame Scottish contributions by luminaries like Adam Smit ...more
Though it was curious to read about Bonnie Prince Charles's ill-fated adventure and the beginning of Great Britain, the next chunk on David Hume etc. was really tough so i fast forwarded to Walter Scott, mostly skimming through yet pausing to read about the august visit of George IV to Scotland and it's unbelievable repercussions that followed Sir Walter's cunning machinations with the image of Scots. Until i finally hit upon what i was most interesting in and what i expected most of the book- n ...more
This is the finely told story of how the Scottish enlightenment emerged from "the most drunken nation on earth" and established the guiding principles of democratic government.

What I like most about the book is the overview of perspectives that resulted in "the American experiment." Readers looking for Christian founding fathers will find them, but a composite father dubbed "Common Sense Man" gets credit for the experiment's success,and he is mostly Scottish.

Among the many Scots who participate
EJ Johnson
Jun 12, 2008 EJ Johnson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history readers
I found this book on the library shelf when I checked out How the Irish saved Civilization. I enjoyed this book mostly but I did skip over some of the sections on philosophy which was unfortunate because he refers to them repeatedly in the rest of the book. Herman shows the Scottish ideas in things good and bad and how those ideas helped develop philosophies of democracy, slavery, socialism, Marxism, and freedom. He gives credit to Scots for most important discoveries and many of our words. My f ...more
"How the Scots ..." is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read in a long time. "Huh? How," you ask, "can history be interesting?!" Not every author can make it interesting, for certain. But here's how to come up with such a winner, Arthur Herman-style:

1. Gather all the players, important events, places and timelines and put them on the canvas.
2. Arrange and join those pieces on the larger background of historical context to create a vital story -- that is, show how all that poten
‘A man’s a man for a’ that’

Although there are a few chapters in this book dedicated to explaining the ideas of the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, the bulk of the book is an examination of how those ideas spread and changed not just Scotland or the UK but, in Herman’s view, the Western world. As with Herman’s more recent book, The Cave and the Light, this is a hugely readable and enjoyable history – Herman writes in a way that makes his books very accessible to non-academic readers.

Theresa Leone Davidson
The Scots did more for modern education, especially the idea that all people, regardless of race, gender or social or economic class, deserve one, and should have access to higher education. What they accomplished for the world in terms of education, as a teacher, is what I appreciated most about the book. I also learned more about key figures in history, all from Scotland, like Alexander Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, James Lind, Erasmus Darwin and his grandson, Charles Darwin, Tho ...more
Very engaging history of Scotland and it's people....detailed, but enjoyable. I was amazed at what the Scots endured, but more so with what they accomplished. I was surprised at the people who were Scottish: John Paul Jones, Alexander Hamilton, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, Dr. David Livingston, James Watt, Robert Louis Stevenson, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Jim Bowie, Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, Samuel Morse, just to name a few.

I wanted to read this book because I am
George Dobbs
Jun 28, 2010 George Dobbs rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history
This is a fine survey of Western history from the Scot point of view, starting in the late 1600's right up through the present. It filled in a number of gaps for me such as the battle of Culloden and the Opium wars, and what defines the Presbyterians (then, and now). Occasionally, the author seemed to stretch the connection to Scotland, but overall enjoyable and educational. Many of my anscestors have been described as Scotch-Irish. He points out that these are also known as Ulster Scots, the Sc ...more
John Pattillo
An unsatisfactory read. The author fails to define what he means by "the modern world", so anything that any Scot did can be thrown into the hopper. And his reasoning fails at a very basic level. If he says (to make up an example typical of how he looks at the subject), "By 1900 30% of Canadian doctors were Scottish," then he must concede that 70% were not Scottish. And they probably were English. So why doesn't that mean that the English invented the modern world?
If the book's title were "How
This is written in the same vein as Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. I learned about Scottish history but really the entire world. From inventions to famous people, this book explores how Scotland and its citizens contributed to the modern (by what they did in the 1700 and 1800s) . It took me a while to get into the writing style, but this is a worthwhile read. I liked the history in the book (I had taken 4 Brit Lit courses for my undergrad and grad English degree and had learned about ...more
Lisa Pletz
If you want to understand why America developed the way it did, this book will help you to get it. I found it very readable, although I must admit a certain bias - I'm interested in all things politic, and I come from a Scots-Irish background, so in very many ways, I understand the author "intuitively." At any rate, this is a great book that will help you to see why we are the way we are, and may give some insight into using that backstory to change how we are doing things now.
Daniel Kukwa
A bloody AMAZING book. It manages to tie in so much history, so many biographies, so many ideas...yet at no time does it feel rushed, over-burdened, or lacking in coverage. One of the finest history books I have ever read, and a revelation to anyone studying the 17th and 18th centuries.
Perhaps a better title for the book would have been "How the Scots made the modern world better." As Arthur Herman even notes in the book, a particularly Scottish characteristic was to take something already in existence and make it better.
The book offers an interesting, and often times amusing, insight to the Scottish input to the Enlightenment era through the revolutionary war. However, the more interesting chapters were those not focused on the Enlightenment era. As someone who finds the era
I just read the Preface and Prologue to this book. It's very interesting as far as the history is concerned, but this book is not what I was hoping for.

The author starts by describing seventeenth century Scotland. He discusses the influence of Calvinism, Scottish Presbyterianism and the Kirk (the Church of Scotland), the Covenanters, latitudinarianism, and the influence of Scripture on Scotland's laws. He writes of how blasphemy and witchcraft were punishable by death, and tells the story of Th
I learned so much from reading this book! It makes me very proud of my Scottish heritage. This book highlights a country that encouraged a free exchange of ideas that was centuries ahead of its time (schools available to all economic classes, first public libraries). Out of this intellectual society came the building blocks of modern science, philosophy, economics, architecture, education, and much more. Scotsmen took a leading role in the British Empire and the founding of America (one-third of ...more
David Bird
This book starts well, describing an interesting cultural moment that was Scottish, and declines as it moves to the assumption that in later history, individuals are worthy of interest because they were Scottish, or of Scottish descent. For example, he notes an early governor of Australia developing Sydney with the aid of a convict-architect. The governor, Scottish, is named; the architect is English and anonymous.

He begins well with noting how a rigid notion of morality led to execution of a yo
This book is no page-turner, but if you like historical non-fiction (which I don't, really) this could be your book. I'm marking this book as "read" even though, I must confess, I didn't read the entire book. I started at the beginning (where else?) and read the first 80 or 90 pages, covering the Scots contributions to modern thought and philosophy. Then I tired of it, but didn't want to completely give up. So, I looked that the TOC and saw a chapter about Scots in science and industry, so, bein ...more
As far as I'm concerned every citizen of the free world should read this book, especially Canadians and Americans. Scotland is one of those tiny might nation's whose people are pretty much responsible for everything that works in the western world. This book is a splendid read from the Great Scottish men to the nobodies and their role in history. [Ok I'm biased being Scottish] But these books are great at bringing out the real Scottish, and avoiding the stereotypes and false histories that have ...more
After 9 chapters, I've had it with this book. It reminds me of history books I read in grade school, with all the over-blown commentary of how the US was pure and perfect.

I'm not enough of a scholar to analyze nor refute everything in this book (and probably wouldn't spend the time nor energy if I were), but, I am knowledgable enough to know the Scots did not single-handedly perform the tremendous miracle of "invention" as claimed by the author.

All their doing (and all their fault)? No. Contri
Peter Macinnis
We took our children, Angus, Catriona and Duncan (can you see a pattern here?) to Culloden in 1986. As you may detect from their names (and my surname), we are genetic Scots, somewhat diluted.

As a rule, the Celtic races in the former British empire seem to be more prone than most to fall for myths, but I knew that many of the lairds were total bastards, and we made this clear to them. Culloden was a gloomy place, and the ghosts seemed to be about, both on the field and in the interpretation cent
Alyssa Argonaut
The present reviewer has read a lot of history in his day — some of it written much better than others. Many people can write about history, but not many can write competently about it. Rarer still is the individual who can write about history in an engaging way that will encourage the reader to not just grind through to the bitter end, but to enjoy his or herself in the process. Rarest of all is the writer who can combine these two traits. Yet, in How the Scots Invented the Modern World, author ...more
Kristi Thielen
Hell, yes, the Scots Invented the Modern World. It's more a question of what they didn't do. From literature (Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott)to philosophy ( David Hume) banking and finance (Adam Smith) inventions (James Watt) industry (Andrew Carnegie) and science (James Hutton)and everything in between, pick a topic and before you delve deeply in it, you'll find a Scot.

Liberal arts types should appreciate that the Glascow concept of higher education stresses the gaining of knowledge across
I found this gem in a bargain book bin at Barnes and Noble. I love history and being partially of Scottish descent, I knew I would enjoy and learn from this book. It is a fascinating look into the history of Scotland, the clan system and the Scottish Enlightenment of the 17th through 19th century that produced many of the world's great innovators. One small problem - the title of the book is inaccurate. The Scots certainly did not invent the modern world on their own. Many different ethnicities ...more
Of course, this book was first forced upon me by my Scottish husband. I rolled my eyes but started reading it anyway. Actually learned quite a bit -- and now, if I could travel back in time, I'd definitely make a stop in the "Athens of the North"! It was also interesting to learn how artificial/manufactured our idea of "traditional" Scottish culture actually is, i.e. Braveheart and Bonnie Price Charlie and brawny men in kilts. All that lovely Brigadoony fluff was essentially the legacy of one ve ...more
Vanessa Vaniloquence
While it is a book of history, it is a popular history so don't expect footnotes. It is very well written and kept my interest from start to finish but where is the info on the most important invention - Scotch?
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“The point of this book is that being Scottish is more than just a matter of nationality or place of origin or clan or even culture. It is also a state of mind, a way of viewing the world and our place in it.” 2 likes
“The Scottish Enlightenment presented man as the product of history. Our most fundamental character as human beings, they argued, even our moral character, is constantly evolving and developing, shaped by a variety of forces over which we as individuals have little or no control. We are ultimately creatures of our environment: that was the great discovery that the “Scottish school,” as it came to be known, brought to the modern world.” 0 likes
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