Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” as Want to Read:
How the Scots Invented the Modern World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

How the Scots Invented the Modern World

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  4,725 ratings  ·  495 reviews
Who formed the first literate society? Who invented our modern ideas of democracy and free market capitalism? The Scots. As historian and author Arthur Herman reveals, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland made crucial contributions to science, philosophy, literature, education, medicine, commerce, and politicscontributions that have formed and nurtured the ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published September 24th 2002 by Random House (first published November 27th 2001)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How the Scots Invented the Modern World, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Mike Dial I changed my life for the better, in response to a crisis in the early 1990's. When I read how Scotland went from being the poorest, most backward…moreI changed my life for the better, in response to a crisis in the early 1990's. When I read how Scotland went from being the poorest, most backward country in Europe in 1700 to being the most advanced country in the world in 1770, I recognized the methods that they used, because they were the same methods that I had used. Sometimes the claims in this book seem unrealistic, because the Scots achieved so much, but I recognized many of the players, I just didn't know the connection between them, until I read this book. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,725 ratings  ·  495 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of How the Scots Invented the Modern World
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, scotland
During a school exchange to McCook, Nebraska, in the early 90s, my wife was asked whether they had television in Scotland. We invented it, she frowned. Admittedly at the time this was somewhat disingenuous, since Nebraska even then had dozens of channels whereas Scotland had four (all of which were regularly interrupted by the fateful words except for viewers in Scotland), but still, the point was made.

It's one of the eternal mysteries why so much of the modern world seems to have come out of
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History-lovers
Shelves: history, scottish-lit
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
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
David Huff
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a Christmas gift from my son Matthew, and an incredibly informative and enjoyable read. Any Scot, or anyone with even a trace of Scottish heritage, will naturally feel a kinship with, and love this book -- but it's also a fine work of research that any lover of history will enjoy.

Historian Arthur Herman has written a comprehensive and well-detailed account of the many ways that notable Scots have had a special influence on world events. Not only is there a ton of information here, but
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book covers about 5 centuries of Scottish history. I was most interested in the description of education in Scotland. I was unaware that Scotland provided universal education for children long before Britain did. I would argue that this is what led to the flourishing of creativity and invention. I would critique the author is this respect as readers could be left with the idea the Scots are superior as a "race" or ethnic group, rather than considering the factors that enabled people of this ...more
Sarah Finch
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Nov 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Theresa Leone Davidson
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Scots did more for modern education than a lot of other people, 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 ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
I swithered between giving this book two or three stars. In the end I went with three as there is plenty of good stuff in here. I think it's true that Enlightenment Scotland is one of those locations in time and place that has had a disproportionate influence on the World (other examples might be Ancient Athens, Medieval China, Renaissance Italy, or the fact that 3 of the World's most influential religions all arose from a relatively small area in the Middle East). The author gives due ...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 was most interesting in and what i expected most of the book- not ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
"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
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A mans 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 Hermans view, the Western world. As with Hermans 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.

EJ Johnson
Jun 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
John Pattillo
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Craig Bolton
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: liberty, of, history
"This is one of the most significant books of the past 100 years. It is a thorough, well developed, and well written account of the cradle of contemporary liberty in the Western World [along, perhaps, with Holland]. I have been studying that development for nearly forty years, and still learned a lot from this book. It is one of those ""put it all together"" volumes that should be read by everyone interested in either Scotland or Western liberty."
Lauren Albert
Oct 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a solid, if not exciting, review of Scottish influence. It is truly amazing to think of how much comes out of that small country. Not just ideas, but inventions, people, etc. Herman shows how many people in the U.S. and Britain came originally from Scottish families. Many of them became famous.
Apr 15, 2012 rated it did not like it
Never mind all the special pleading in this farrago of nonsense. Looking around at the modern world, I'd keep quiet about inventing it if I were the author.
Timothy Boyd
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Good Scottish history book. Interesting chapters. Recommended
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
UPDATE: After considering this book for a few days, I've taken away one star: Herman's fantasy that the best from Scotland exist today in our Modern World is just that: a fantasy. Still, Herman's utopia is a very good read. And I notice that Herman has written a number of books with similar, audacious titles. He's definitely good enough for me to try another selection. And he has inspired me to travel to Scotland as I would love to see the yearly pageantry of the Military Tattoo.
Noah Goats
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books, like How the Irish Saved Civilization, designed to sell copies by pandering to national pride. If this was the only book you read about the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, or even the American revolution, youd think these things were all 90% or more products of Scotland. It exaggerates a bit, in other words. Its very structure almost forces it to exaggerate. But despite this, and again, like How the Irish Saved Civilization, it still manages to be a good and ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found the description of this book so intriguing that I actually paid real money for the ebook, and I got more than my money's worth! The author clearly did his research, and the result was a very long but fascinating history of Scotland's contributions to modern day philosophy, ethics, politics, medicine, science, and society. As both my husband and I have Scots blood, I was really interested to learn of the true back story of Scotland and the disbursement of Scots across the world, as well ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A bit of a snoozer to start but the payoff for hanging in is rich. The reach and influence of the Scots on modern life is truly stunning.
Laurel Hicks
Most interesting and informative.
Ron Housley
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
How the Scots Invented the Modern World The True Story of How Western Europes Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It
By Arthur Herman

A short Book Report by Ron Housley

It was apparently a New York Times bestseller back in 2001; I missed it at the time

Many of us educated in the American government schools are woefully uninformed about important European history, uninformed about even the major events which have shaped our present world.

I waded into this 472 page volume on
Jun 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Aaron Wolfson
Broad and challenging, but worth the effort. Herman discusses everyone and everything present in or coming out of Scotland from the 1600s to the 1800s. As you'd expect, such a massive treatment has a tendency to get dense and bog down at times, but it's always providing valuable information and insight.

I might have preferred a work that is more selective, focusing on the most momentous events and influential people in greater detail than Herman does. But that work would lack the sweep of this
George Dobbs
Jun 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe 
  • 1215: The Year of Magna Carta
  • The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought
  • A History Of Scotland
  • Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland
  • The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
  • Scotland: The Story of a Nation
  • Scotland: A Concise History
  • In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English
  • The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World
  • 1066: The Year of the Conquest
  • Living Within Limits
  • Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader
  • Models of My Life
  • The Wealth of Nations, Books 1-3
  • A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century
  • The Crofter and the Laird: Life on an Hebridean Island
  • The Invention of Science: The Scientific Revolution from 1500 to 1750
See similar books…
Arthur L. Herman (born 1956) is an American popular historian, currently serving as a senior fellow at Hudson Institute. He generally employs the Great Man perspective in his work, which is 19th Century historical methodology attributing human events and their outcomes to the singular efforts of great men that has been refined and qualified by such modern thinkers as Sidney Hook.

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
37 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 5 likes
“a mass of ignorant, culturally degraded citizens easily becomes an immense drag on the system. They become easy prey to demagogues and applaud every attempt to undermine the foundations of that “natural liberty” which they have enjoyed in the first place.” 3 likes
More quotes…