- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (Sept. 24 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0609809997
- ISBN-13: 978-0609809990
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 61 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #19,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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 – Sep 24 2002
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"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. See all Product description
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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!
If, like me, you have been drawn by the feeling that there must be more beneath the mere skirl of pipes (or was it kilts that skirled?), but found that somewhere around Culloden or the Clearances it was just too indigestible a haggis of depressing detail, then this is a book for you. It will cleanly but convincingly detach you from some of the more romantic simplifications lodged in the popularized image of the Scottish people. But it will balance the amputation with the attachment of a quite interesting prosthetic, a history that is one of ideas - and big ideas at that!
This book will gently but firmly disperse your romantic notions of the culture of the Highlands. While giving gracious due to the Highlanders ancestral values of clan as family and honor through battle, Herman makes it clear that by the time the clans had entered the era where modern historical consciousness pegs them, they were mostly just conveniences through which a primitive, feudal social and economic structure was maintained by wealthy and distant "chiefs."
Herman does not set out, explicitly, to remove the kilted and piped 'noble Scot' from the picture, but by effectively doing so he opens the story to his more intriguing theme. That is the story of how cultural and religious change, often energized and honed by the conflicts with England, led to the creation of a vastly literate populace with a deep sense of the rightful role of the individual in structuring the institutions of society. It is the story of how that populace elevated ideas and individual to a conjoint prominence that became manifest in the major institutions of learning and commerce which, together, supported a mutual defining of what Herman asks us to agree is truly "the modern."
As an example of the subtle but deeply convincing surprises the book parses out of this history, consider the role of fundamentalist religion. Who would have imagined that the Scots embracing of a rigid and quite rabidly fundamentalist religion would lead, within barely two generations, to an explosion of ideas about individual and intellectual liberty that gained root in the founding documents of our country?
Why should we care? Does this book merely provide an alternate lens through which to view the distant history of a rather obscure people? If that were the case, we might just as well stick with the kilts and pipes.
I would argue, instead, that this book brings important ideas to very contemporary debates. I've often found sweeping critiques of capitilism, colonialism and imperialism to be compelling - critiques of "the west" which seem to root its failings in the very era which Herman celebrates and attributes to our worthy Scots. But the attacks of September 2001 have done much to crystallize these often merely academic debates. If the "critique of the west" finds its final roost in mass murder, one cannot so glibly embrace that censure.
Reading Herman's book I surprised myself by coming, for instance, to view Adam Smith's ideas in a substantially positive light. I gained a balance - a positive appreciation of what was added to the human species' ways of comprehending and organizing our habitation of the earth, of why it was honestly labeled an "enlightenment" in its day and how it might still inform our thinking about contesting the darkness of ours.
Does this view ignore past and present? colonialism? the depredations of GATT and NAFTA? Nah. But we sure do need more of a stance to stand up against these forces than identity politics; and we need more of an alternative than the return to pre-capitalist forms that is implicit in condemnation of the commercial revolution of the 18th century. Not for this Scot, anyways; no return to pipes or kilts - but also no return to mud huts and bloody servitude. We can gain much by acknowledging that the Enlightenment was a positive historical movement. Herman's thoughtful analysis of that movement, albeit through a plaid lens, re-invigorates history by reminding us how much we have to learn from its (re)-reading.
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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