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Scotland is a beautiful country with a complex and fascinating history.

Thousands of years of invading and being invaded, centuries of rule by the English, and now, limited independence once again.

This book explains it all and puts it into pictorial context.

 
 
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Illustrated History of Scotland

Text by Chris Tabraham, photos by Colin Baxter

A beautiful 'coffee table' type book, but with excellent factual content to read as well.

In combination, this is the rarest of all history books - it is not just fact filled, but also interesting, readable, and enjoyable.

 

 

There's much more to Scotland than whisky, tartan, and kilts.  This book looks at Scotland's history - from early pre-history and mysterious stone circles similar to Stonehenge, up to the present day and the new parliament building, still under construction.

Tabraham and Baxter's book does double duty both as a 'coffee table' book and as a useful historical text.  If you're interested in Scotland, or considering visiting the country, this will be very helpful and will enable you to make sense of the various phases of Scotland's history and its leading figures.

About the Book

The large hard-covered book measures 9" x 12", and with 224 pages, is an inch thick.  The book is heavy - it weighs just over 3 lbs.

The book is printed onto good quality white paper and has 190 photos (almost one on every page), either historical photos in black and white or more recent photos in color.  However, although liberally illustrated with high quality images, there is still plenty of text - perhaps two thirds of the pages contain well written interesting text.

The Illustrated History of Scotland was published in March 2004.  The book sells for $35, and can be obtained through Amazon (currently for only $23.80, making it a great bargain) as well as most other regular outlets.

The book is in ten chapters, covering major sections of Scottish history, ranging from its early years to the chapter titled 'Scotland.com' which covers the present and immediate future.

In the first chapter, we are introduced to the village of Skara Brae, Northern Europe's best preserved stone-age village, and dating back 5000+ years.  From that early starting point, Scotland's history is then covered all the way through to the present day.

A map showing many of the featured locations is provided at the front.  At the back is an interesting summary chronology, plus a complete index and a bibliography.

General Comments and Impressions

The Illustrated History of Scotland can be enjoyed on different levels.  At the most simplistic level, you can simply flip through it, stopping at interesting pictures, reading the descriptive captions, and perhaps then skimming through a bit of the nearby related text.  As a coffee table type book, it meets the high standards of printing and photography you'd hope for.

For a slightly more indepth appreciation, the book has many highlighted one and two page articles that cover interesting elements of Scottish history and culture.  These can be read in any order, without needing to be carefully reading through the entire text from page 1 to 224.

The true Scottish enthusiast will, however, choose to do exactly this - read the complete text from start to finish.

The writing style is clean and crisp, rather than dry and scholarly.  It does a lot more than just recite historical facts.  It adds some interesting personal observation and commentary, and puts the historical facts into context, commenting on their implications to ordinary Scottish people, and making the historical events seem much more meaningful and relevant.

Author Chris Tabraham has impeccable credentials to write such a book.  He has a degree in ancient and medieval history and archeology, and is the Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland.  His erudition flows effortlessly through the book.

Photographer Colin Baxter is widely published and his work makes a notable contribution to the look and feel of this book

Content

Perhaps you saw the Mel Gibson film of Braveheart.  I looked in the index for Braveheart and it was not listed, but if you knew the actual name of Mel's character was William Wallace, then you'd find plenty of interesting information about those troubled times and the men who featured in them, and indeed the archetypically Victorian National Wallace Monument features prominently on the book's cover - just as, in real life, it dominates the countryside for many miles around (located just outside Stirling, and not far from Glasgow).

Or maybe you want to know something about Scotland's national drink, the 'water of life' - whisky.  There is a helpful two page featurette that provides an excellent exposition of the history and evolution of whisky in Scotland.

But if you wanted to understand something of the evolution and meaning of Scottish tartans (which were even banned for a while so as to suppress Scottish nationalism), or if you wanted to know what Scottish men wear underneath their kilts, you'll not be so fortunate.  Neither tartan nor kilt is listed in the index, and the oft speculated upon answer to the second question will hopefully remain a mystery to you!

(Note that a companion volume - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Scotland, due to be published in October 04, may address these issues.)

The book could certainly contain more content, but its objective is to provide you with a fair and interesting overview of Scottish history rather than a complete recitation of every fact, no matter how minor.  The book gives an excellent, readable, and comprehensive introduction to Scotland and its history.  And doubtless some of the omissions from this book (which are generally more social than historical) will be included in the companion book.

If you're wanting to better understand the country before visiting, or want a memento of a visit previously enjoyed, this would be an excellent choice.

Summary

The Illustrated History of Scotland is an interesting, appealing, and enjoyable book.  Whether you're seriously interested in Scotland or just a casual reader, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this beautifully presented book.

Its list price of $35 is in line with other high quality books, and with the current low price of only $23.80 through Amazon it is very good value.

Recommended.

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Originally published 14 May 2004, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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