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Book Review - Roots of Stone

I bought Roots of Stone, by Hugh G Allison, in Leakey’s, a wonderful second hand bookshop housed in an old church building in Inverness. I was intrigued by the book’s title, atmospheric cover photograph and claim to cover 2,000 years of Scottish history in a compact 200 pages. An ambitious task, particularly when the author’s intention was to weave his family’s history into the telling.

The structure of the book, described clearly in the Introduction, is simple yet complex – before the first chapter a linguistic note, an introduction and a prologue. The chapters themselves cover centuries of history in chronological order, interspersed with a couple of linking “interludes” which provide additional information about the author’s family history.

The epilogue brings the tale back to the present with mention of the author’s personal history, his work at Culloden battlefield and involvement in setting up Moscow’s first Highland Games. It is at the beginning and end of the book that I hear the lyricism of the poet, the storyteller clearly – I would have liked to hear this voice more often.

The book concludes with poems, songs and a rich appendix of family trees, starting with Conn who reigned 123-173 AD and ending with the author’s daughters. The richly evocative pictures in the book - Castle Tioram, Ben Kilbreck and others - were drawn by the author’s daughter Lindsay.

The author’s mother did a lot of research into family history, and it is this research that provided the foundations for the book. She verified through a range of written sources many stories handed down through oral tradition. The verifiable links through time grow misty, and this is mirrored in the shaping of the book. The first two chapters outline Scottish history up to the death of Malcolm II in 1034. They are dense with names and dates, tales of king usurping king – I found the writing fragmented, as that period of history is fragmented, and had to concentrate to take the writing in.

As the book moves on it is as if the author becomes more comfortable in his own skin. The third chapter provides a telling of the story of Macbeth from the historical perspective. A tale I found illuminating, describing a Macbeth very different from the tortured “hero” of Shakespeare’s play. The book moves on through the rich tapestry of Scottish history, telling stories both well known and increasingly personal as the author touches on more of the family his mother researched.

This is a book I know I will come back to again and again. It is an accessible Scottish history in which the author explores the roots of both his family and nation.


If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can find this book at amazon.com or amazon.co.uk - see links below:

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