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A History Of Scotland
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A History Of Scotland

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,787 ratings  ·  179 reviews
Scotland's history has been badly served over the years. Defined by its relationship to England, Scotland's popular history is full of near-mythical figures and tragic events, her past littered with defeat, failure and thwarted ambition. The martyrdom of William Wallace, the tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots and the forlorn cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie all give the impressi ...more
Paperback, 440 pages
Published November 1st 2011 (first published October 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  1,787 ratings  ·  179 reviews

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Emilia Barnes
So this was... weird. I mean, just... just bad in a way that I never in a million years expected it to be bad.

For one it was weirdly sexist.

When talking of geology, the rise and fall of land after the melting of the icebergs is compared to a fat woman sitting down on it. I can’t tell if it’s exactly sexist, or if it’s just unfunny, either way it’s unnecessary. Any person of any size makes an indent on a sofa cushion and all this analogy tells me is that Oliver either doesn’t know this or else

Episode 1 only:

Calgacus: He was the first Caledonian to be recorded in history. The only historical source that features him is Tacitus' Agricola, which describes him as "the most distinguished for birth and valour among the chieftains". Tacitus wrote a speech which he attributed to Calgacus, saying that Calgacus gave it in advance of the Battle of Mons Graupius. The speech describes the exploitation of Britain by Rome and rouses his troops to fight. (wik
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
An interesting book on the history of Scotland by noted archaeologist/documentary presenter, and Scotsman, Neil Oliver.

An interesting book, but doesn't reach the heights that his Viking book did, which is the benchmark for me.

Well worth a read if you're interested in the auld country.
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Neil Oliver, archeologist, historian, broadcaster and native Scot has written an captivating journey through Scotland's history. Mr. Oliver begins the book by stating "that Scotland's history belongs to every on of us: to all who live there now as well as to any whose family trees stretch a root all the way back to the old country from wherever they find themselves today." Considering the numbers of American whose ancestry hails from the British Isles this books has great significance in underst ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
In condensing so vast a subject as the history of Scotland into a single book, Neil Oliver set himself a virtually impossible task. Instead of following one or two key themes, he has valiantly tried to cram in everything, but much of the time there's no room for detail to make it interesting. The result is page upon page of name dropping and brief, even dismissive, descriptions. Passages in the book are thoughtfully written, even poetic, but on the whole it is pure tedium. What a shame! ...more
Karen Brooks
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having never watched an entire episode of the sublime-voiced Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland (a situation I intend to remedy stat), I was really looking forward to reading his book about the same. Commencing his walk through time before the Big Bang (because, he explains, historians are often criticised for not going back far enough), Oliver takes the reader on a wild, breath-taking and heart-breaking ride through the mists and mountains of Scotland – the rugged Highlands, green-hilled lowla ...more
Nov 22, 2014 rated it liked it
At first it was interesting to dive into the history of Scotland told with the passion that I admired in Neil Oliver, but I slowly discovered the fault in his pathos. Going back and forth on certain subjects and characters had me also going back and forth on my Kindle to make sure I understood things right and then his presumption on my foreknowledge of certain aspects of the history (and thus his wanting or lacking of explanation) had me questioning weather I should just find a better book, one ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A good overview of Scottish history, but the narrative gets very confused at times and he skips back and forward more than makes sense.
Sep 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
I got more and more uncomfortable with the underlying misogyny and bad attitude in this book, which was bourne out when I found out that this guy has some really objectionable politics. It was starting to emerge in the book, at which point it went into the recycling.
Christine Spoors
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the first non-fiction book I have read in a while and I really enjoyed it. History lessons in school only focused on main events in Scottish history so it was good to read a book that started with the formation of Scotland thousands of years ago and went all the way to the 21st century.
The author is clearly very passionate about history and I also really enjoyed his sense of humour. The author didn't use ridiculous language so the book was easy to read and wasn't confusing.
The book jump
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it
It feels like this book has taken me ages to read! Maybe it's because I've watched a few Neil Oliver documentaries, but my brain insisted on reading the whole thing in a melodic, male Scottish voice and that took longer than my plain English, speed-reading voice. I am aware that the previous sentence may make me sound mad!

It was a good book - although an early factual error irritated me for a couple of chapters - and I've learned a great deal about the history of Scotland, especially its relati
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Neil Oliver's A History of Scotland is a well-researched, comprehensive, and engaging read. It's a mean feat to condense several thousand of years into history into a 400 page book, but Mr. Oliver does a good job of it. He is at his best in the later sections, both because he significantly more source material to work from and because it's seem to me he -- like most people -- feel most connected to people from the early modern era forward. We see ourselves so much more clearly in someone from th ...more
Craig Dickson
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting and well-written history of Scotland, I enjoyed reading it. I picked it up in the discount bin in Bookworld on Princes St a year or two ago, but it took me a while to get round to reading it.

Neil Oliver hedges his bets about when is the best time to start a history by going right back to Pangaea and Panthalassa, and following the geology of how Scotland formed. Then he covers the ice ages and the peopling of Scotland, it's pre-history and goes right up to the modern era.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is rather unusual as far as I'm concerned for a Historian to manage to encompass nearly 5.000 years of acknowledged History into a single 400-some page volume. Neil may sound only dimly Anglicised as you progress, and to no surprise I realised he is actually Unionist, but he never truly ceases to prove his speciality throughout the bulk of reading. That is, Scottish nationalism, its upheavals, downfalls, sorrows and grieves, as well as its bumpy journey spanning a number of centuries of disre ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
I walked into downtown Aberdeen and embarrassed myself (mildly) by asking the clerk – in my distinctive American accent – where the Scottish history section was. . . I felt so cliche, but he comforted me by saying, “We like that you want to know our people.” I picked up Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland, and I am really enjoying it. . . He presumes a certain level of knowledge – particularly geographical – from the reader, but I love the broad strokes he applies to history. I am, though, in the ...more
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
I love Neil Oliver from his appearances on Coast because his enthusiasm encourages everyone to share in his love of history and I had no doubt that I would enjoy this book. I have very little knowledge of the history of Scotland, apart from vague ideas picked up from novels set there and from visiting Edinburgh on several occasions, so this filled in quite a few gaps. I did find some of the names confusing and found myself tracking back more than once to sort out who was who. I also lost a smidg ...more
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, scotland
Oliver's enthusiasm over telling Scotland's history led to creative metaphors and flowery language throughout. Sometimes I wished it read more like a textbook — brief and to the point. But other times I loved the extra emotion.

Scotland's history is one of hardship. Fighting within to determine who should be in power, fighting invaders, fighting the English, who never seemed to give them a break.

Centuries of turmoil under an unstable monarchy make it clear to me what a stabilizing force democrac
Sam Culver
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
If you have seen any of Neil Oliver on the television, it’s hard not to hear his voice as you read this history of Scotland. Quick paced but never skipping detail, brimming with enthusiasm and clearly a deep love and passion for the subject. Never felt stodgy considering all that is discussed.

For a history book to be readable for the masses, it has to maintain a sense of narrative, keep the excitement high and remain relatable. This book does all that. Great.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of Scotland's game of thrones through the millennia. Interesting personalities, stomach turning gore, mind numbing political machinations, and the rise and fall cycles of the country's fortunes. ...more
Patricia Orner
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Political controversy aside, I have always enjoyed watching Neil Oliver. He’s fairly good at what he does, which is bring history to the masses in a way that hopefully makes it more than just indistinguishable names and dates, and he does it with a just a touch of cheekiness. This is the first time I’ve read one of his books, and since I’ve never had the opportunity to view the companion series, I’m taking the book strictly at face value.

All-in-all, the book is a reasonably good overview of Sco
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and well-written narrative by Neil Oliver. It provides the backdrop for a better understanding of current Scottish sentiments.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this as an audiobook. And man I love listening to Neil Oliver. His voice is delightful - in fact I suspect he could read me the phone directory and it would be good! That said, this guy is also an amazing historian and researcher. His work is always top notch. I always learn a lot listening to his books/docos. Really enjoyable book. Told purely from the Scottish POV. Puts English history in interesting context when you hear about it from "the other side" ...more
Brian Willis
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Solid overview of Scottish history with focus on the more important moments in its development. Nonetheless, a great shorter version of that history at 400+ pages. (If you want the champion of the long version, which is riveting despite its length, see Magnus Magnusson's Scotland: The Story of a Nation). The 10 episode television version is also very engaging. What differentiates Oliver's version from others is his distinct focus on the Scottish perspective of things as distinct from Scotland as ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm taking a trip to Scotland later this year and got this book to learn more about the area before going there. This was a fascinating book and the Scottish history, while kind of a sad one, has a lot of interesting stories. The author starts from the very beginning with the geologic history that led to the formation of the Scottish isles and carries the history to the present day. I found myself wanting to know more and finally realized that because the book was written by a Scottish man, he m ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own, non-fiction
   It has been a long while since I read a pure-history, non-biography, non-analytical book. This is also the first book I have read wholly devoted to Scotland, land of my paternal grandmother’s parents. Some of the broad brush-strokes of Scottish history I was already at least passingly aware of, like Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, King James, Mary, Queen of Scots, the Highlanders, Gaelic, the Picts, to name a good number. What Oliver does in this history is break down the ages thematically ...more
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written and accessible history of an amazing place. It deepened my knowledge of the place of my ancestors and where I currently call home as an American expat. Worth the read for sure!
Dec 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Very well-written history of Scotland from ancient times to present. However, I didn't find the author convincing as a historian on the Scottish Reformation. He seems very biased against anyone who held a strong religious conviction and made unsupportable statements with no footnotes or primary sources to back them up... ...more
Richard Thomas
Sep 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scottish-history
This is as good an introduction to Scotish history as you'll find. It covers the ground well and is straightforward about the highs and lows of our history and the shortcomings of some of those who've ruled us. He is strongest on the earliest parts since this is where his academic trade lies but all the gound is covered up to the recent present. ...more
Andrew Davis
Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An interesting presentation of Scottish history, especially for those who had not much exposure to it earlier on. An interesting style, although one gets overwhelmed by the number of characters. It made me buy a more detailed book on the same subject by Magnus Magnusson.
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, tv-tie-ins
I really enjoy Neil Oliver's work on TV; he is undoubtedly one of the best popular historians out there in terms of how engaging he is when presenting his subject and in having the air of an expert who knows his stuff. Of course, with his Scottish heritage it's a no-brainer that he brings something extra to the table, and the television series that served as the basis for this book was very good. To take that foundation and then create an informative national narrative about Scotland in a popula ...more
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Neil Oliver is a Scottish archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and writer who has become widely known as the presenter of BBC television's series A History of Scotland and Coast.

His first fiction novel, Master of Shadows, is published by Orion in September 2015.

He lives in Stirling with his wife and three children.

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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