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The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It

by Arthur Herman

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60635-2
Publisher: Crown

The Scots here get all the credit, for everything from humanistic philosophy to capitalism to the steam engine to Agent 007.

If enough Scots read this paean to their ancestors, Herman (History/George Mason Univ.; Joseph McCarthy, 1999, etc.) may one day have his visage carved into a Scottish Mt. McRushmore. Herman begins in the nasty 17th century and guides us with swift intelligence and admirable command of his sources through some complicated history: the National Covenant (1638), the Stuarts, Cromwell (whose singular virtue, Herman notes, is that he was hated by everyone in the British Isles). Soon we are in the 18th century, and the Act of Union, which, as Herman observes, confounded its critics by propelling the Scottish economy into astonishing prosperity. Herman reminds us of all the great men (yes, mostly men) who were Scots, including Francis Hutcheson (an early opponent of slavery and advocate of women’s rights), James Boswell, David Hume, Adam Smith (the first compassionate conservative?), Edward Gibbon . . . well, maybe he doesn’t quite qualify, but, says Herman (reaching, reaching), “for all intents and purposes, he was intellectually a Scot.” Herman explains the apparent oxymoron “Scotch Irish,” displays the Scottish origins of “redneck” and “cracker,” and points out that half the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Scots (or of Scottish ancestry). Scots created the modern literary journal (Edinburgh Review), historical fiction (Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly), and pavement (John MacAdam’s “macadamized” road). Scots also invented modern medical practices, ruled sweetly in the far reaches of the British Empire, peopled Canada and Australia with sturdy stock, and sent medicine and Jesus to Africa in the person of Dr. Livingstone (I presume). Notable Americans like Daniel Boone, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, and Kit Carson had roots in Scotland, as did Andrew Carnegie, who built railroads, steel mills, and libraries.

In a volume more celebrative than contemplative, Herman reveals a chauvinism that presents an eerie smiley face.