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

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman
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's review
Oct 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: biography, non-fiction, scotland
Read in October, 2009 , read count: 1

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It was a very informative and interesting book. It covers the late 1600s to the mid 1800s in-depth, and covers the late 1800s to the present in the conclusion. The book was easy to read, but was slow reading for me due to all the new information in it. I had no previous knowledge of ninety percent of the information it contained, and what I thought I did know was explained differently in the book.
The title itself is a little far-fetched, and the author seems to retract a little in his thoughts of what was the typical Scottish way: “…he perfected something created by someone else, and gave it a higher and wider application that its original inventor had imagined.” The author contends that much of what the Scots did in this book was take some thing or some idea and expound upon it, not necessarily invent it.
The book was well organized by topic or idea, but going from chapter to chapter makes it harder to keep the timeline correct. It starts in the early 1700s, moves to the beginning of the 1800s, and then back again when it begins a new subject, making it hard for the reader to keep track of it all. A simple timeline would have been useful to me. I would have kept one myself if I had realized the need sooner in my reading. I also think an insert of maps and lineages and photos would have helped.
The subjects spoken of throughout the book were well explained and easy to understand for those with no prior knowledge. The subjects on things tangible (such as the historic novel, Morse code, the telephone, etc.) were easier for me to understand than those on philosophy.
Many subjects were new to me. The Scottish Enlightenment and its uniqueness, with its many members genuine clergymen and science and religion working hand in hand was completely different when compared to the French Enlightenment. The literacy rate of the common people in Scotland was much higher than the rest of Europe at the time. It is wonderful to think how much they did with their lending libraries and the schools in every village and the universities that were open to everyone that helped shape our present times.
The visit of George IV that turned Scottish history into Highland history and ignored the rest struck me. My family ancestors (and my husband’s) came from either the Lowlands or the Borders and not the Highlands, which makes most of what I know not at all accurate to our personal history. Also, what we know about the wearing of the kilt was fashioned at the time of George IV’s visit in 1822, with the shortened kilt, and the tartans. Only the Black Watch had been in continual use until it became legal and popular to wear the tartan again. The revelation that clans didn’t have a specific tartan belonging to them and had previously worn whatever suited them prior to the King's visit was interesting and freeing to me in choosing which one to wear while trying to find the one that belonged to my ancestors.
Overall, this book was enlightening to me and made me even prouder of my Scottish heritage. It expanded my thoughts of how their influence shaped us, past the Scottish burr and the tartan. For “…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.”

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10/14/2009 page 219

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