Guest Author - Asha Sahni
The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter encompasses Scottish history from Misty Origins (the first chapter) to the twentieth century. The book addresses a huge breadth of subject material, romping through Scottish history whilst commentating on events, people, movements and politics. The book was first published in 1987, before Scottish devolution, and it is still readily available nearly 25 years after initial publication.
Nigel Tranter (1909-2000) declares in the Preface to The Story of Scotland that he is a storyteller not a historian. Yet he has an impressive understanding of Scottish history. A prolific fiction author, he wrote a number of books based on key Scottish events and/or historical figures including The Bruce Trilogy and The Stewart Trilogy. He also wrote children’s books, Westerns (under the pen name Nye Tredgold) and non-fiction books about Scotland – he had a particular interest in Scottish castles. He had a gift for pulling threads of fact into readable fiction, presenting complex ideas in an accessible format. This book does not have a list of sources, but it does draw on a lifetime of exploration of Scotland – a land renowned for its oral traditions.
I found myself immediately drawn in by the conversational writing style of The Story of Scotland. I could hear the strong voice of the author in my head as I read. Observations came thick and fast, illuminating material and reinforcing memory. An example - Tranter asserts that the Picts painting themselves instead of wearing clothes, a “fact” the author was told at school, does not hold weight if you think of the climate they lived in; he also points out that carvings of Picts show them wearing clothing. He links the “craving for a homeland” common in those of Scottish ancestry with Pict religious beliefs – one of many engaging theories about Scottish history and culture proposed in the book.
If you know nothing about Scottish history, you may find this book a useful introduction. If you have dabbled in Scottish history, this book can illuminate areas of darkness. If your approach is academic/scholarly, try this book as a quick read – it may kick start thinking in new directions.
I found this book in a local charity shop and debated before buying whether I needed another book about Scottish history – I am so glad I did buy it, as it provides a unique, creative and heartfelt celebration of all that was and is Scotland.