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HALL OF FAMEon 8 February 2006
Reviewing Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization evoked a nagging question: "Why hasn't someone done this for the Scots?" Now, someone has, and a highly worthwhile read it is. Herman tears down a few misconceptions about the Scots as he rebuilds their image as original thinkers and practical achievers. Herman is not the first to consider John Knox as the taproot of the Scottish expression. Knox's Calvinist severity, however, often clouds the fact that the Scots severed from the Catholic church only a generation after Henry VIII achieved that for England. And they accomplished it without the power of a monarch. Herman sees Knox's thinking as planting seeds leading to a flowering of democratic ideals.
These ideals weren't lofty theoretical flights, however. In an excellent summary over two chapters, Herman outlines the Scottish Enlightenment and the men who created it. Unlike the Continental Enlightenment, the Scots version had a deep religious base. They sought their deity through rational investigation, searching for its expression rather than pushing it to a distance as did the Deists. These Scots saw "the proper study of mankind" as a practical question leading to social betterment. Education became a universal in Scotland at a time when most schooling remained under the cloak of religious authority.
Herman contends the Act of Union as of immense benefit to Scottish society at many levels. The chief result was the elimination of prejudicial economic policy. As long as they remained independent, the Scots were unable to compete with English mercantilists. While many Scottish nationalists see the Act of Union as a subversion of local values, Herman, along with many Scots, view it as providing new opportunities. He stresses the opened doors to trade led to rapid enrichment of the port cities of Scotland and world-wide contacts. Ships meant shipbuilding and many Scots later brought their talents to the New World resulting in the speedy clipper ships.
Herman follows the exodus of Scots around the globe - North America, Australia, India. Each place they entered, they left a mark. Most of it seems positive today - strong commercial enterprise, extending education, uplifting political ideals. Herman paints a glorious picture, deftly omitting a few blemishes. His descriptions of the Highland clans verges on the romantic, but fails to note their signal of the burning cross emigrated to become the image of America's Ku Klux Klan. Scots driven from their home lands resulted in many becoming the slave overseers of the South's plantations.
These are minor points. The scope of Herman's book, as he states, is global, both physically and intellectually. He has assembled a wealth of material, presented it forcefully and cogently. There's much more to deal with here than simply learning something [more?] about the Scots. Too often portrayed as backward romantics, Herman has shown the Scots to be an essential foundation for today's intellectual, commercial and political environment. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 26 February 2010
This book should be required reading for all MSPs, Scottish schools, and anyone who wears a kilt in Scotland (the symbol of servitude). I would also include anyone who thinks that Sir Water Scott provided a sound basis for Scottish representation and development

For those in Scotland who have lost all sense of Civic pride in their community.
From visits and from articles in the Scottish Review on the web, lack of civic pride and real community extends the length and breadth of the country for all the guff spoken at Burns nights and the 'whose like us' blather who view anyone outside theri own kail patch as a foreigner.
Unlike their forebears in too many places with drugs, graffitti, lack of true self awareness and the loss of trying to better their selves who would want to be like them?

This book has been around for some years but apparently not enough for anyone in England who says if Scotland wants independence let them have it.
As this book indicates it will be a dark day for England and for Britain as a whole if this were to happen.
Britain will once more be just another little spot on the map of the world.
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on 28 January 2002
As a Scots-American, I can relate to author Arthur Herman's outstanding in-depth review of what Scots in the past have contributed, and in fact still do,to the progress in every field of endeavor that affects the whole world. I see now only too clearly the shortcomings in information I experienced in 5 years of history classes in high school in Scotland - a course replete with inanities of dates, English royalty and the like. Herman tells it as it is and gives all the facts in a smooth transitional way covering many centuries of events. Makes me proud of my Scots heritage and I can recommend this book for all who want to know and understand the origins of Western freedoms and the impact that Scots have made in engineering, science, mathematics, religious beliefs, humanities et al.
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on 16 February 2003
Most books I've attempted to read on Scottish history were marred by either a dull academic style or an over-romantic view of half truths. We finally have a book without all this baggage. Written by an American gives us a unique independant perspective on Scottish achievement, shedding light on the great Scots that shaped modern history. Herman does an excellent job laying out his views on controversial subjects such as the Act of Union in 1707 as a masterstroke for the Scots or the divided opinion to Bonnie Prince Charlie's '45 rebellion.
This should serve as addictive reading for anyone with a keen interest in Scotland.
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on 4 September 2003
For any Scotsman (like me), this must prove an enthralling read. The idea of the 'Scotsman on the make' is well established, but imagine what it does to our fluttering national ego to learn that this same 'Scotsman on the make' was actually MAKING the whole modern world and everything in it!!! Heady stuff!
But, actually, this is a false pleasure. A similar case could be made for just about every major European country and a few minor ones (Holland, Portugal, and Greece). This makes me wonder about the whole point of having such a book. The writer is apparently an American academic, and with a name like Herman we can't suppose he is one of our long lost clansmen whose ancestors were exiled to the wild and barren New World after 'coming out' in the '45.
I therefore suspect the author is being a little manipulative. By overstating his case, raising a few hackles, and puffing up the pride of a little nation that is more susceptible to this kind of pat on the back than most, he knows he's going to shift some books. Maybe he even intends to do a whole series, working his way down to the Baltic States or Iceland. Or maybe he's just trying to ride the Braveheart phenomenon.
But remember Scottish Greatness - like the greatness of any European country - didn't occur in a vacuum. Herman recognizes this by concentrating on the 18th and 19th centuries when Scotland had entwined its fate with that of its large neighbour to the South.
Rather than stirring up petty, parochial, 'down-with-England' nationalism, therefore, the achievements catalogued in this book should remind readers how beneficial to Scottish greatness the Union with England was. This, more than anything, gave Scotland the stage that its recent upsurge in petty nationalism threatens to take away.
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on 1 December 2009
This is an excellent and readable history of Scotland and its influence on the development of Western civilisation as we know it. On the other hand it gives a valuable commentary on impact of such events as the reformation and the Covenanters on the development of modern democracy and education. He covers the 18th century 'Age of Enlightenment' and the Industrial revolution with understanding and insight. This book makes a first class accompaniment to Neil Oliver's 'History of Scotland' on BBC Television.

There are one or two minor inaccuracies relating to the geography and he seems to be confused about the age of Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. Like all historians Arthur Herman gives an interpretation of events and their impact and at times I find I disagree with him. He comes down too hard on the 17th century reformers and his pro-unionist leanings could be challenged. On the other hand it is good to find a history of Scotland written by an American and discovering his view on the development of my country and its influence on the USA its political framework and culture.
I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone seeking to know more about Scotland; how it influenced the world and how it came to be as it is.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World
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on 31 May 2003
A must for anyone who blames all our present ills on the English, this book reveals the benefits gained from the 1707 Union, both for our country but also for England and America. The book does set to rights the popular belief of something forced upon us and also shows the impact that the Scots had on the world, from the American Revolution to the colonisation of the Empire. This certainly gave me a much better picture of our country's development.
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on 19 February 2012
I have to start off by saying that I quite enjoyed reading this book. Mr Herman writes in a flowing and engaging style that brims with neat sketches of the Scottish people who had an influence on the creation of modernity in the UK and around the world. As someone who grew up in Scotland, it has helped me take a more rounded view of the act of union without diminishing my belief in an independent Scotland.

But do not expect critical analysis. Mr Herman sets up his premise but never actually examines it. He simply articulates a list of figures that, loosely speaking, 'invented' things as if this is proof enough. Mr Herman is known to follow the Great Man Theory approach to history and this book is a fine example of that. This is a very individualistic and simplistic approach that views history as the stuff of hero's and villains. His hero's are all male and because Modernity is Good, so they were Good. He goes to some lengths to try and convince the reader that the British Empire was a noble enterprise for the purpose of 'civilising' nations. I must say my jaw dropped when I read his approving reference to Kipling's White Man's burden. Just to remind folks of what this poem said, here is an extract:

"Take up the White Man's burden--

Send forth the best ye breed--

Go send your sons to exile

To serve your captives' need

To wait in heavy harness

On fluttered folk and wild--

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child"

So really my objections are political. In my view Mr Herman has written an anachronistic hymn to liberal capitalist imperialism while disregarding issues of race and gender. If that floats your boat, you'll love it.
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on 6 February 2014
I have not started to read this book yet, but it arrived very quickly, was in an excellent condition for a second hand book - no worse than a new book bought from the shelves of a bookshop, and adequately packaged.
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on 25 October 2013
So well researched and written. The author is an excellent scholar. A little known subject, but an essential piece of knowledge of western culture.
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