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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Top Customer Reviews
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!Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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 on March 25 2014 by Paul Argue
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 morePublished on Nov. 20 2013 by Mary Joyce Gillis
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 morePublished on Oct. 19 2012 by austricanuck
I'm all for bold and provocative titles, and I suppose this book's title is appropriate for the subject matter. Read morePublished on July 13 2004 by Steven Beishuizen
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 morePublished on June 29 2004 by Michael Lima
Excellent and very readable story of the Scots contribution to Western civilization and the foundations of the USA in particularPublished on April 7 2004
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 morePublished on April 3 2004 by Pastor Maynard