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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the risk of sounding obnoxiously conceited, I'm going to start by saying this book isn't really aimed at me. I have a pretty good knowledge and understanding of Scotland's history in general and a reasonably in-depth amateur knowledge of some periods in particular. However I was intrigued to see how the '...for Dummies' series would present history, having only used them in the past for more technical subjects, and I always find it's good to start with a subject you know something about to get a feel for the quality and accuracy of the series.

This book covers the entire human history of Scotland from the Stone Age to the current day in just over 300 pages. It is therefore to be expected that it's going to be a fairly quick romp and indeed it is. In fact, the first several sections irritated me quite a lot by their superficiality - not just the Stone Age, etc., but also the Romans, the Vikings and right on past the Bruce and Wallace era. The section on the Kings of Scotland between Bruce and the Union was a sprint - admittedly they did have a tendency to die young, but some of them only got a couple of pages. It's not that these sections lacked facts; but they did lack much interpretation and I didn't feel they were put into the context of the wider world particularly well. In this early part of the book, the author has also included lots of little jokey asides, often schoolboy humour about sexual mores, and he is a huge enthusiast for the exclamation mark!!!! I think there may be more exclamation marks in this book than in the whole of world literature put together!!!!

However, once we get to what we would think of as modern history - the last 300 years or so, the book becomes more in-depth with more analysis and a greater feeling of context. The 'About the Author' section tells us that this is the period in which Knox has done most of his work and I think that shows. Even here, though, there are some issues where I wondered if a reader would be left floundering for lack of information. For instance, the fueing system of land rents rates one sentence. I felt it would actually have been clearer to omit reference to it entirely than to explain it so inadequately, and there were many other examples like this. In general, however, these later sections give a much fuller picture of Scottish society and how it changed in response to the rise and fall of Empire and beyond.

The book is very much in the style of the '...for Dummies' series, using icons and bullet-point lists to highlight information the author considers important for the reader to remember. This works reasonably well, though sometimes it felt a bit patronising. What worked less well were the grammatical errors and typos - they didn't by any means make the book unreadable but there were too many of them in what is after all a scholarly work. Sometimes the lack of grammatical clarity led to errors in fact - for instance, on page 14 the author says Scotland was uninhabitable between the second century AD and the 13th century - a surprise, I imagine, to the people who lived there. What he meant was that it was uninhabitable for thousands of years at a much earlier period due to the Ice Age. The error is caused by a lack of clarity in the writing style, and again there are other examples of this. As so often, I found myself wondering if the editor had read the book.

I don't want to be too harsh on the book because it does provide a basic introduction to Scottish history and that's what it sets out to do. And certainly for modern history I felt it gave a good overview. But I felt the earlier sections were too superficial even as an introduction, there were too many areas that lacked clarity and as a result were confusing, and personally I disliked the author's jokey style. I was also disappointed to see that there's no bibliography included, so anyone wishing to read further is given no guidance on where to look next. So in conclusion I fear I can only give a lukewarm recommendation to this one overall, though I'd recommend it more strongly to someone who was primarily interested in the sections on modern history. 3½ stars for me, so rounded up.
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on 30 November 2014
A few of the reviews reckon that the author doesn't delve deep enough.
As a beginner to reading up on Scottish history I learnt a lot. Some of my common misconceptions were dispelled and I felt I had learnt a lot. This book is great as an introduction and the reader can go and delve further if he/she wants to but for me this was enough (for the moment).
Incidentally , it came in useful for a college project a few months later which saved me a lot of library/internet research time. I'm sure its a book I will refer to time and time again, even if just to remind myself of particular areas of history.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As with all the Dummies books, the layout is great for a quick and easy read - ideal for a high-speed overview or a swift brush-up on a topic. The book covers a vast period of time, so it's bound to be a bit cursory - it's soundbite history, rather than anything in-depth. As such, it's not particularly critical or probing, but it does manage to avoid being partisan, no mean feat when you consider the potential political sides a book like this could take!

In fact, one of the best sections of the book is the latter part, covering Scottish politics in the last part of the 20th century. I'm not sure of the author's politics, but you certainly can't tell from this book. It's a job well done of depicting all sides of Scotland's recent story, without straying into one camp or another.

My favourite section, however, is the brief, obligatory 'Parts of Tens' - here, part of this is devoted to notable Scots who haven't made the history books, but probably should have. A nice tribute to some worthy / remarkable people who don't normally make the final cut in books like this!

All in all, another nice addition to the Dummies' history shelf collection.
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on 25 October 2014
An excellent guide to Scottish history, in bite-sized chunks that give all the main themes, plus a lot of those lesser known facts that only a true academic of Scottish history could know. A top book for anyone wishing to know everything about Scotland over the past 1000 years.
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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For context, I've read a few books about sub-state nations and nationalism in Europe, and as with nation-state histories, I've learned to approach them with some caution - in writing a history of a 'thing' like a nation then the author defines the thing itself. Applying this to Scotland, there are some authors who'd have us believe that Scotland is a 'thing' that has been simply the victim of English colonialism (Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in Britsh National Development: Celtic Fringe in British National Development) rather than a shifting territory, and fluctuating population, who (like all nations) is essentially a construct that only exists because sufficient people believe that it does Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism or The Invention of Tradition (Canto Classics).

That out of the way, an accessible book on Scottish history could easily fall into the trap of writing a romantic text that makes for an enjoyable tourist read (see Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland) but fails to provide that key requirement of a real history - some remote sense of objectivity. William Knox manages to avoid that pitfall and, like many books in the 'Dummies' series', approaches his subject quite matter of fact and without sentimental pomposity.

I can definitely recommend this book for someone without any preconceptions of what Scottish history is about, or those with strong preconceptions but who are prepared to at least dust those prejudices with a sprinkling of historical fact.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We have relatives in the Highlands of Scotland and visit often, several times a year as well as birthdays, Christmas etc. I've seen the odd tourist book about Scottish history whilst there, but they mostly looked quite dry or aimed at children. I am quite familiar with the concept of the For Dummies books, having used them for computing and other subjects in the past. This book contains all the relevant highlights and explanations you would need for an initial introduction to the subject, plus its delivered in a very easy to read, amusing way. I think this light hearted delivery might possibly irritate some folk after a while, but I was fine with it. It is written by a notable academic on Scottish history, so everything is underpinned by current thinking and as much accuracy as possible. It is also very up to date, covering the important changes in attitude and the political and social developments through the 20th and early 21st centuries, which have led up to the independance referendum. As we are seriously considering moving to the Highlands at some point, this has provided much needed background information. I am a bit appalled that we learn so little about Scottish History at school (the same goes for Welsh and Irish) considering we are so geographically close and our histories intertwined. I feel that anyone interested in Scotland or visiting it would enjoy this book, it is fine for older children too, as the style is so easy going and approachable. For deeper insight, you could visit other books suggested in the bibliography, but this is a really excellant introduction to the subject.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Scottish referendum has drawn out so many opinions and emotions and, as someone who knew a little bit about Scotland and its history (only having been a visitor there), I wanted to know more - and to gain more of an understanding about how things got to where they are now - without reading a heavy text book. And this book does that so very well.
Laid out in the usual 'for Dummies' style - which gives you the information clearly and succinctly and without you having to trawl through pages of dry text. I have found it completely invaluable. Yes, it is a primer, not a PhD thesis, but it is an exceedingly good place to start. Very helpful and very enjoyable.
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on 29 September 2014
As a keen student of Scottish history and an admirer of the Dummies books I was looking forward to reading this offering. But I am left disappointed.

The scope of Dr Knox's work is admirable: covering, as advertised, "from the Stone Age to today". Alas the humorous tone of Dummies is lacking, but perhaps the plethora of exclamation marks to indicate where the reader should be chuckling put me off. Parenthesis is much in evidence too, e.g. "Mary was an attractive, tall (nearly 183 centimetres [6 feet]!)..."

More troubling though are the factual errors. For instance, the introduction tells us on page 1 that "Scotland has been a unitary state since 1470", but seven pages later 1460 is quoted as the date when Norway ceded the Northern Isles. (In fact it was 1468). Agricola we are told was the son-in-law of Tacitus rather than the father-in-law. On page 103 we are told (correctly) that James II died in 1460; but by page 114 this becomes 1451. And then there's the repeated references to coronation rather than royal inauguration and the addition of "for Scotland" to the office of secretary of state.

I suspect these errors are indicative of poor editing rather than scholarship as the indexing of the book leaves much to be desired as well.

It's not all bad though. The final section giving ten places to visit, ten little-known people and ten Scottish inventions was very enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With all the referendum talk in recent months it seemed a good time to brush up on my knowledge of history North of the border. This book breaks things down in a simple and easy to follow way, highlighting key moments you may wish to find out more about elsewhere.
The viewpoint is unbiased and at no point does the book get too bogged down or boring.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 October 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a surprisingly interesting account of Scottish history, from the very early origins of the nation in the Stone Age, right through to the modern nation in the year 2000.

I was a little bit surprised to find that the year 2000 was as far this this book covers, given that it was only published this year (2014), however there are a couple of paragraphs covering the key events which occurred (or where due to occur at the time the book was written) such as the SNP winning a majority in the Scottish Parliament and the Independence Referendum. I guess if the outcome of the independence vote had been difference, a whole new chapter to this book would have been required...

The structure of this book is also very easy to follow, with the key time periods being set out at the beginning of each chapter, such as the period of the Stewart's between 1371 and 1460. Within each section, the book is then further subdivided into every single piece of Scottish history which I have heard of (such as the Reformation, The Jacobite Rebellion,and The Act of Union) and hundreds more that I had never heard of (such as The Declaration of Arbroath and The Glorious Revolution).

Many a book on such a subject would struggle to hold my attention for a prolonged period of time (being more than about 2 pages) however this is actually quite easy to read as it is well written and each section is concise and to the point. I will admit that I found that later history i.e. after the Renaissance, much more interesting than the earlier history, but of course, a history book on Scotland wouldn't have been complete with only one or the other.

Overall, it's a very interesting account of the key events which led to the making of Scotland as we know it today and it doesn't go too heavy on the detail either, which is always a good approach for the average reader who is just looking for a general overview.
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