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How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It [Paperback]

Arthur Herman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 24 2002
Who formed the first modern nation?
Who created the first literate society?
Who invented our modern ideas of democracy and free market capitalism?
The Scots.

Mention of Scotland and the Scots usually conjures up images of kilts, bagpipes, Scotch whisky, and golf. But as historian and author Arthur Herman demonstrates, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland earned the respect of the rest of the world for its crucial contributions to science, philosophy, literature, education, medicine, commerce, and politics—contributions that have formed and nurtured the modern West ever since.

Arthur Herman has charted a fascinating journey across the centuries of Scottish history. He lucidly summarizes the ideas, discoveries, and achievements that made this small country facing on the North Atlantic an inspiration and driving force in world history. Here is the untold story of how John Knox and the Church of Scotland laid the foundation for our modern idea of democracy; how the Scottish Enlightenment helped to inspire both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution; and how thousands of Scottish immigrants left their homes to create the American frontier, the Australian outback, and the British Empire in India and Hong Kong.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World reveals how Scottish genius for creating the basic ideas and institutions of modern life stamped the lives of a series of remarkable historical figures, from James Watt and Adam Smith to Andrew Carnegie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and how Scottish heroes continue to inspire our contemporary culture, from William “Braveheart” Wallace to James Bond.

Victorian historian John Anthony Froude once proclaimed, “No people so few in number have scored so deep a mark in the world’s history as the Scots have done.” And no one who has taken this incredible historical trek, from the Highland glens and the factories and slums of Glasgow to the California Gold Rush and the search for the source of the Nile, will ever view Scotland and the Scots—or the modern West—in the same way again. For this is a story not just about Scotland: it is an exciting account of the origins of the modern world and its consequences.

“The point of this book is that being Scottish turns out to be more than just a matter of nationality or place of origin or clan or even culture. It is also a state of mind, a way of viewing the world and our place in it. . . . This is the story of how the Scots created the basic idea of modernity. It will show how that idea transformed their own culture and society in the eighteenth century, and how they carried it with them wherever they went. Obviously, the Scots did not do everything by themselves: other nations—Germans, French, English, Italians, Russians, and many others—have their place in the making of the modern world. But it is the Scots more than anyone else who have created the lens through which we see the final product. When we gaze out on a contemporary world shaped by technology, capitalism, and modern democracy, and struggle to find our place as individuals in it, we are in effect viewing the world as the Scots did. . . . The story of Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is one of hard-earned triumph and heart-rending tragedy, spilled blood and ruined lives, as well as of great achievement.”
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Amazon

"I am a Scotsman," Sir Walter Scott famously wrote, "therefore I had to fight my way into the world." So did any number of his compatriots over a period of just a few centuries, leaving their native country and traveling to every continent, carving out livelihoods and bringing ideas of freedom, self-reliance, moral discipline, and technological mastery with them, among other key assumptions of what historian Arthur Herman calls the "Scottish mentality."

It is only natural, Herman suggests, that a country that once ranked among Europe's poorest, if most literate, would prize the ideal of progress, measured "by how far we have come from where we once were." Forged in the Scottish Enlightenment, that ideal would inform the political theories of Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume, and other Scottish thinkers who viewed "man as a product of history," and whose collective enterprise involved "nothing less than a massive reordering of human knowledge" (yielding, among other things, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, first published in Edinburgh in 1768, and the Declaration of Independence, published in Philadelphia just a few years later). On a more immediately practical front, but no less bound to that notion of progress, Scotland also fielded inventors, warriors, administrators, and diplomats such as Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, Simon MacTavish, and Charles James Napier, who created empires and great fortunes, extending Scotland's reach into every corner of the world.

Herman examines the lives and work of these and many more eminent Scots, capably defending his thesis and arguing, with both skill and good cheer, that the Scots "have by and large made the world a better place rather than a worse place." --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries, Herman (coordinator of the Western Heritage Program at the Smithsonian and an assistant professor of history at George Mason University) has written a successful exploration of Scotland's disproportionately large impact on the modern world's intellectual and industrial development. When Scotland ratified the 1707 Act of Union, it was an economic backwater. Union gave Scotland access to England's global marketplace, triggering an economic and cultural boom "transform[ing] Scotland... into a modern society, and open[ing] up a cultural and social revolution." Herman credits Scotland's sudden transformation to its system of education, especially its leading universities at Edinburgh and Glasgow. The 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment, embodied by such brilliant thinkers as Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith and David Hume, paved the way for Scottish and, Herman argues, global modernity. Hutcheson, the father of the Scottish Enlightenment, championed political liberty and the right of popular rebellion against tyranny. Smith, in his monumental Wealth of Nations, advocated liberty in the sphere of commerce and the global economy. Hume developed philosophical concepts that directly influenced James Madison and thus the U.S. Constitution. Herman elucidates at length the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment and their worldwide impact. In 19th-century Britain, the Scottish Enlightenment, as popularized by Dugald Stewart, became the basis of classical liberalism. At the University of Glasgow, James Watt perfected the crucial technology of the Industrial Revolution: the steam engine. The "democratic" Scottish system of education found a home in the developing U.S. This is a worthwhile book for the general reader, although much of the material has been covered better elsewhere, most recently in T.M. Devine's magisterial The Scottish Nation: A History, 1700-2000 and Duncan A. Bruce's delightful The Mark of the Scots. (Nov.)Forecast: Clearly modeling this title on Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, Crown may be hoping for comparable sales but probably won't achieve them.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Just as the German Reformation was largely the work of a single individual, Martin Luther, so the Scottish Reformation was the achievement of one man of heroic will and tireless energy: John Knox. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what you might be expecting... more. Jan. 16 2003
This book will surprise you more than once, and in doing so surprise again since, from the outset, it sure looks like the sort of book you wouldn't expect to offer any surprises at all - its just history, right?!
This fascinating volume will provide its surprises to readers with a desire for more substance in their understanding of the Scots, but also to those exploring the broad notion that there's more than dry old dust to be raised from looking back to "the Enlightenment" for meanings important in assessing a difficult and dangerous future for "the West."
Some reviewers have suggested that "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek treatment - hinting that it appearance following on the heels of Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization" is merely a consequence of some sort of publishing industry templating. I could find nary a tongue nor a cheek. This is a quite serious history written by a quite serious historian who states a compelling case for considering the substantial, possibly preeminent contributions of the Scots to the European enlightenment. That he does so in a way that is convincing is a credit to his skill as a writer as much as to unique power of the underlying theme.
I am not a reader, hardly even an appreciator, of History. I am, however, Scottish by descent and brought up, as were so many American Scots in the 50's and 60's, with a regular exposure to the trappings of the culture set up as a colorful surround to a vague sense of the history of a people somehow grand but sad. This has drawn me to more than a few 'histories' of the Scots over the years but I don't think I've finished a one of them. All those battles - with hardly a victory to be found... all those kings and queens - with hardly a Scot among them!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Scots Enlightened the world March 14 2003
The book might be better titled 'The Scottish Enlightenment and its influences on the modern world.' It is divided into two sections, 'Epiphany' and 'Diaspora'. Few will need an introduction to notions of a Scottish diaspora, but 'epiphany' is an interesting twist on 'Enlightenment'. The conventional academic gloss on the Enlightenment focuses on French appeals to 'reason' culminating in Kant's categorical truths. The followers of Edmund Burke generally dismiss the 'French Enlightenment' as a corruption of the British Enlightenment which focused on 'compassion' rather than 'reason'.
Herman takes both to task for forgetting the evangelical sources of our modern world. Herman starts his story with crusty John Knox and his blend of revolutionary violence, predestination and universal literacy. Knox's reliance on the whirling dervish of 'revival meetings' and individual study of biblical sources provides Herman with all he needs to found the enlightened modern world in foggy Scotland. He is not shy about introducing Christian roots to what became an atheist philosophy. The transition from spiritual epiphany to materialist enlightenment might have been an interesting thread, but Herman avoids the issue. It is enough to boost the Scottish role and leave it at that.
Personally, I found this all a bit more intriguing than convincing. The leap from Knox (1505 - 1572) to Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) required a detour from church history into British nationalism before emerging with a secular history of the Enlightenment. While I enjoyed getting a Scottish view of the 'English' civil war and detailed account of parliamentary debate over the Treaty of Union (1707), I was left wondering if the emphasis on Knox was merely Scottish boosterism, i.e.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let the title keep you away from this book. June 20 2004
Don't let the title keep you from reading this book. While it does trumpet the achievements of the Scottish people, it is primarily a history of the Scottish enlightenment and its impact on the world. Indeed, it was a remarkable period with a lasting influence. Among the products of this era were Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edward Gibbon. While it is a book of history, as the title suggests, it is a popular history so don't expect lots of footnotes. It is very well written and kept my interest from start to finish.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What we owe to the Scottish Enlightenment Jan. 2 2003
It would appear that much of what was originally well organized and well run in commerce, government, medicine, education, millitary and the arts in the western world, during the last 300 years, was created by the incredibly sound minds of Scotland.
We are fortunate that the Scots exported their enlightened and modern philosophy so freely and universally and profitably. Herman's prose brings alive a spirit that regularly and brilliantly reformed and revitalized whatever the Scots turned the laser sharp intellects towards in the 18th and 19th century. And the effects of their various causes to modernize are still felt today.
If you are interested in how the Scots helped frame the American constitution, redefine philosophical thought, conceive and organize the British Empire, revolutionize medicine and import the first system of public education to the rest of the western world, then Arthur Herman's compelling book is for you.
This authour's ability to weave an excellent story from history is a tribute to his expertise as a writer and as a scholar. But since his theme and subject matter offer him a rich primer in how to understand and repair just about anything, abstract or concrete, it is "self evident" that anyone with Scots "common sense" could create this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Medical Research
I liked the medical chapter on the introduction of hands on research concerning the organs of the body - vs. blood letting and guess work.
Published 5 months ago by Paul Argue
5.0 out of 5 stars Well developed and highly readable
The author doesn't appear to have a drop of Scottish blood in him (unusual that in itself). He is a history professor with a gift for research and writing like a novelist; and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mary Joyce Gillis
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
This is one of the most informative books i have ever read. It explains so much of what i had previously been only vaguely aware of, and provides context to our recent (last 400... Read more
Published 22 months ago by austricanuck
4.0 out of 5 stars Neat Book
I'm all for bold and provocative titles, and I suppose this book's title is appropriate for the subject matter. Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by Steven Beishuizen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Convincing Argument On Scottish Contributions To Mankind
The sensations I have upon completing an exceptional book are very akin to the refreshment, exhilaration, and enlivenment that I feel after drinking a glass of ice water on a hot... Read more
Published on June 29 2004 by Michael Lima
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential primer on Scots-American heritage
Excellent and very readable story of the Scots contribution to Western civilization and the foundations of the USA in particular
Published on April 7 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneasy with this book
At times interesting, at times dull. I was fine with that until I came to page 235 to read about Scotts in the American South. Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Scotland Forever in a Splendid Read for Everyhone:
I am a Presbyterian pastor who received this excellent short
history of Scotland as a Christmas gift from a parishoner. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004 by C. M Mills
2.0 out of 5 stars Hmmm, maybe I missed something...
but I found this one of the driest books I've read in ages. I was quite eager to learn more about the history of Scotland and the Scots; it's part of my heritage. Read more
Published on Jan. 5 2004 by Canuck reader
5.0 out of 5 stars a little maopingpong
Maopingpong is wrong to state that the Scots were ' subjugated ' by the English.Scotland has never been conquered by the 'southern cousins',and Scotland joined the United Kingdom... Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2003 by Guy Incognito
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