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The Lighthouse Stevensons

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  517 ratings  ·  82 reviews
I for one had no idea that the 14 lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland's most famous novelist. But Bella Bathurst throws a powerful, revolving light into the darkness of this historical tradition.

Robert Louis was a sickly fellow, and - unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determi
Paperback, 284 pages
Published 2000 by Flamingo (first published 1999)
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This is a nice and friendly book, it is a discussion of the Stevenson family, starting really with Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson, that concentrate around four great lighthouses whose construction was designed and overseen by members of the family: Bell Rock which made Robert Stevenson's reputation,
Skerryvore the work of his son Alan Stevenson, Muckle Flugga, the work of another son David Stevenson (whose sons also became lighthouse engineers), and Dubh Artach, where wo
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Read this after watching a programme about the Bell Rock Lighthouse, one of the lighthouses mentioned in the book. In awe of the man who designed this and the men who built it over 200 years ago.
To discover the family were engineers who designed and built some of the most well known lighthouses was fascinating, though I'm pleased that RLS decided to write books like Treasure Island and Kidnapped.
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Lighthouse Stevensons in the story of the many generations of Stevensons whose priority was with the Scottish lighthouse building. In the 18th century Thomas Smith married Robert Stevenson’s widowed mother which merged their two families, and thus began from scratch the building of the lighthouses in Scotland. Of the hundred thousand or so people employed on the sea in the 1750s, between 30% to 40% would not have survived to see old age. Those who escaped death through disease, ill treatmen ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it
OK, there's a fair train of thought in composing this review. Basically:

If you read one book about the building of the main and most ambitious and challenging Scottish lighthouses make it this one.

Which poses the question: why do you want to read this? You bought this, and that book about sheep (Counting Sheep, more to follow) is this a mid life crisis?

Probably. Does enjoying it make it worse or better though?

This is an accessible book that concentrates on the human story of the family who buil
Oct 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Still good the second time around. I really like this book.

I much preferred reading about Robert and Alan. Maybe that's because they were earlier on and so had to come up with creative solutions to problems instead of just building standard lighthouses in later years. Or maybe because the author didn't give as much time to the later Stevensons. It seems like she got tired of writing by the end of the book. Or maybe they were just more interesting people.

I could have done without the last chapter
I've chosen to read this book because of the connection it has to my husband's family. Robert Stevenson is his 4th Great Grandfather, which means my children also share this heritage and I want them to know about it. Recently, we were able to purchase a copy of this book for our family library.

I once watched a documentary about the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which is partially covered during high tide. It was fascinating how Robert Stevenson and his team built it in stages, only durin
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Interesting. I had never realized that whole villages relied on wrecks for their living, so they would be against building lighthouses. And even some sailors didn't want them - they were accustomed to short, dangerous lives, and trying to make sailing safer seemed like messing with God's plans. It's a disturbing thought that people would stand by and watch sailors drown, because interfering might upset God, and they would sometimes even hold sailors under, because obviously God wrecked the ship ...more
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly enthralling book on the building of many of the lighthouses around the Scottish coast. Of course, the famous Stevenson family were responsible but thankfully RLS decided that the life of an engineer was not for him. In fairness he did give it a try but couldn't wait to get out and start writing and in addition he did pen 'A Family of Engineers' that recorded the Stevenson family tradition in the field, or more appropriately on the water.

Bella Bathurst's inspiring account of the men
Jul 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like to know how stuff got done.
Everything you didn't know you wanted to know about how the lighthouses of Scotland got built by the the Stevenson family of engineers - the one that also produced the writer Robert Louis. Reading this book I learned, once again, how incredibly creative and industrious our nineteenth century ancestors were. How they triumphed when all the odds were against them - lack of formal education, absence of adequate health care, career blocking social stratification, religious prejudice, penury, "primit ...more
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting. As a lighthouse lover, having visited over 70, I rated it a 5-if you are not a lighthouse lover, perhaps a 4. Either way, it is a very well told history of the family who was responsible for the construction of most of the lighthouses in Scotland, most of which are still standing. The Stevenson's were also responsible for lights in other parts of the world, and their engineering influenced lighthouse building everywhere. The book tells of the incredible difficulties of creating ...more
Well OK, technically, this was a gift from my daughter because she knew I had become fascinated with Robert Louis Stevenson after a trip to Scotland, but just because the Stevenson family operated lighthouses and just because someone wrote a book about does not make this volume leap off the shelves ...
Jessica Mitchell
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kiddo
This book surprised me. It was fascinating and enthralling. I had zero interest in reading it, but now it's probably one of my top ten all time favorites. ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a reread for me, as we're planning a trip to Scotland and I want to familiarize myself with the country from a lot of angles. It's a well-done book, though I can't follow the technical commentary at times, and had to look up terms online.

The story itself is remarkable: Four generations of men (always men) in the Stevenson family basically invented the lighthouse in Scotland and put an end to centuries of unnecessary deaths for mariners trying to navigate the country's rocky, storm-tosse
Rachel Parham
The name "Robert Louis Stevenson" probably rings a bell for most of us - he did author a few famous literary classics like "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" - but beyond being one of those authors we were all forced to read at some point in our educational careers, Robert Louis Stevenson has another interesting credit to his name: he is descended from a line of intrepid Scottish lighthouse engineers.

In Bella Bathurst's fascinating history, we are taken on a jour
Patricia Godfrey
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I once lived on an island that carried a lighthouse built by the Lighthouse Stevensons.
I lived on the island from about 1970 to about 1974 and all that time I had no idea of its history. Or of the history of any of the lighthouses that circle Britain.
I learned about them, their builders and quite a lot about Edinburgh history while reading this book, and the book itself is a late discovery. I first saw the book while staying at Cantick Light, a set of lighthouse keepers' cottages on the island o
Geoffrey Kelley
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The accomplishments of Scottish engineers in the 19th century are legendary. From railroads to bridges to roadways, the canny Scots built structures that still serve us today.This is equally true in the area of lighthouse construction, a story that revolves around three generations of the Stevenson family of Edinburgh. Starting at the end of the 18 th century, the men of this family undertook the design and construction of dozens of lighthouses along the rugged Scottish coast. Bella Bathurst foc ...more
Novel Destination
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bella Bathurst's book chronicles the Robert Louis Stevenson family's
involvement in building 14 of the original lighthouses on the coast of
Scotland is appropriately named "The Lighthouse Stevensons". If you enjoy
lighthouses, you might be surprised to find out how very complicated they
were to build. They look like such simple and sturdy structures. I was also
amazed to find out how they chose lighthouse keepers...I never appreciated
the toll it took on family life while providing good wages, pension
Douglas Kay
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read it cover to cover. My sister gave it to me and I felt I shouldn't NOT read it. Although quite dry in content, it is full of accounts of storms and their toll on the Scottish coast and even on the crews as they worked to dot the coastline with life saving signals. Imagine being inside a lighthouse when a storm batters it for days upon days, and an ocean swell taller than the lighthouse itself washes around you. There's a lot of that, and a lot of narrative of how the Stevenson family, gene ...more
M.A. Garcias
Mar 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
I already commented here on the other book I brought from my trip to Edinburgh (Robert Bruce, King of Scots), and this time it is the story of the Stevenson family, whose most illustrious member (Robert Louis) broke with the family tradition that his grandfather and three of his uncles, extraordinary engineers and who were responsible for the construction of various lighthouses on the dangerous coasts of Scotland, each one more dangerous and apparently more impractical than the last.

Against all
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read about half of this and then skimmed some before my trip to Scotland. The early parts of the book that covered the history of getting lighthouse construction started despite political and cultural resistance was the most interesting.
Overall, I think my interest level would have been better addressed by a thorough magazine or web article. It did inform my trip, however.
I saw optics from Stevenson lighthouses in the National Museum of Scotland, and saw the Stevensons' Duncansby Head Lighthou
Susan Williams
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know lighthouse building could be so fascinating!

Excellently researched and narrated tale of the famous author's grandfather, uncles and father and the establishment of the lighthouse system in Scotland. What obstacles they overcame through sheer brilliance, stamina and fortitude. The nearly impossible struggles to erect the Bell Rock, Muckle Flugga and Skerryvore edifices were particularly impressive. The Amazon ebook version needs some additional editing as there are some egregious mi
May 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
A highly interesting and informative book about the so called "Lighthouse Stevensons", who revolutionised the construction and technological development of lighthouses for over a century.

I knew very little about the family, with the exception of Robert Louis Stevenson so I found it fascinating to discover more about them and the technological advances which made the construction of lighthouses possible.
Fugado De La Casita
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. If you have a fascination for the sea, sea life in general and particularly for lighthouses, do not hesitate to read it. I thought it would be a novel. It's not! It is a very well-written chronicle. I enjoyed every page and every detail. Also for fans of Scotland in general :-) ...more
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn’t expect to like a book about lighthouses, but Bathurst is very versed at threading a narrative about a technology and the people behind it. I learned a lot about seafaring and lighthouses, and I felt connected to the Stevenson family.

If you enjoyed Olivia Laing’s writing, you’ll enjoy this book. And you don’t have to be interested in ships, I promise!
May 18, 2020 added it
A fascinating account full of wonderful snippets of information. I came away with a much better understanding of the immenseness of the tasks set before the Stevensons and the difficulties they, and all who worked on the lighthouses, encountered. This is also an interesting insight into the rise of engineering as a profession.
Nigel Huby
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who loves a seascape or feels the empty-ness of an island this book brings to life the sheer hard work put in by this family to light the coast of Scotland. Entertaining but not too technical,this book should lead you to visit the rugged Scottish coast and should accompany a visit to Fraiserborough's lighthouse museum. ...more
Nick Forbes
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Well written account of the line of lighthouse pioneers that was Robert Louis Stevenson's family. The sea is ever a fascinating subject, and the lighthouse is no exception. Don't forget your sou'wester before embarking on this one! ...more
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction, 2020
This book swings between a family drama and the exact details of the types and weights of the stone used to build the lighthouses and its brilliant. Tying the buildings to the family really helps create a structure on which to hang the technical information.
Gary Howes
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An interesting book from start to finish
Gives a good account of the Stevensons also sir Walter Scott is mentioned in book I really enjoyed this book would recommend
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting and engaging. A nice blend of engineering history and a look at the characters and families involved.
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Bella Bathurst is a fiction and non-fiction writer, and photographer, born in London and living in Scotland. Her journalism has appeared in a variety of major publications, including the Washington Post and the Sunday Times.

Her first published book was The Lighthouse Stevensons (1999), an account of the construction of the Scottish lighthouses by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson, and named

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