This is as good a book as almost any, I'd say, to start with if you want a good, solid overview of the story of Scotland.
I would like, though, to start with a negative point, and get it out of the way first. Before you're even into the book proper, author Neil Oliver makes a rather bold - and in my view, plain wrong - statement. "Scotland's history has been badly served over the years," it says on the inside jacket cover. To me this is a rather sweeping assessment (although he doesn't mention names) and by it he dismisses the many excellent works over the decades from the likes of Magnus Magnusson, John Prebble and countless others. It is a rather typical attitude from an author of a "new" history. It's almost as though he's saying that what you're about to read surpasses anything you may have read before. That's certainly the impression I got, anyway.
That said, my overall impression of the book as a whole once I'd worked my way though it was excellent. He begins with a tough chapter, going right back to square one, with the formation of the planet itself. For me this was perhaps a little too early a starting point, but then again Oliver isn't just a historian but also a geologist, so perhaps his desire to include this subject was understandable.
One of the things Oliver wanted to put right, he said, was the overall impression of "poor" Scotland, how it has been the victim of misfortune over the centuries, with too many lost battles and too many thwarted ambitions. Yet throughout the book, that to me is the dominant impression he gives: that Scotland HAS been unfortunate over the centuries, with tragic figures such as Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie forever in the history books for all the wrong reasons.
The well documented events such as Bannockburn, the Jacobite Rebellions and the Reformation are well covered, as you'd expect, with plenty of background to put them all in context.
Around the middle of the book, roughly covering the period 1400 up to the union in 1707, I felt the author lost his way a bit, his writing becoming a bit jumbled and incoherent. But then I realised that parts of Scotland's history are a bit like that, messy and patchy. Stick with it, and the rest of the book is excellent.
This book has certainly given me the appetite to study further. Patchy at times or not, Scotland's history has been fascinating, and I look forward to concentrating on specific periods, having had this initial overview.