THE LIGHTHOUSE STEVENSONS by Bella Bathurst

THE LIGHTHOUSE STEVENSONS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A detailed account of the building of Scotland’s lighthouses and the family that engineered them. In this day of elaborate tracking devices like the Global Positioning System, the loss of even one sailor can be national news, so it is a sobering fact that Bathurst presents when she writes that “by 1800 Lloyds of London estimated that one ship was lost or wrecked every day around Britain; between 1854 and 1879 almost fifty thousand wrecks were registered.” Since many of these ships were lost around Scotland’s rocky shoreline, the movement to build reliable lighthouses to replace the few warning systems in place, such as easily doused beacon fires, would seem not only a necessary, but an obvious step. For reasons political, social, and religious, that step was a long time coming, and Bathurst is at her best when describing the obstacles that faced Robert Stevenson (who was the author Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather) in designing and building Bell Rock, the first truly efficient lighthouse in Scotland. Three of his sons followed him into engineering and continued to build lighthouses (as well as other public works). What makes this family’s story remarkable is that, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, engineering “was not a science then. It was a living art, and it visibly grew under the eyes and between the hands of its practitioners.” The book, while thorough, lacks momentum, and Bathurst’s pedestrian prose doesn—t often live up to the stories she tells, though there are some striking images here—of the “wreckers” who waited for the spoils of shipwreck, watching impassively as ships foundered, or of workmen trapped in a sea-bound barracks by a horrific storm. A diverting exploration of the art and persistence of this family of engineers. (24 b&w illustrations) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019427-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999




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