Something of a Wild Scot himself, Fry (How the Scots Made America, 2005, etc.) proffers a magisterial, if not always limpid, history of his country and people.
The resilient Highland Scots, the author reminds us, have battled poverty, English domination, church shenanigans, the encroachment of non-Gaelic culture, ineffective land reform, emigration, poor harvests and—often most violently—one another. Fry, who here incorporates quotes from Gaelic and English literature and other Scottish histories, brings to the task both a fierce devotion to detail and an infectious affection for his country. The fate of the Gaelic language is one of his principal concerns, and by the end, he grudgingly and wistfully acknowledges that it is not long for this world, at least in its spoken form. He begins with the death of Elizabeth I and the elevation/transformation of James VI of Scotland to James I of England. Fry discusses the complexity of clans and later reveals that the vast enterprise of tartans owes more to the weaving industry than to clan history. He deals fairly with the sanguinary years of civil war and religious transformation. He records with a journalist’s clarity such moments as the 1727 burning of Scotland’s last “witch”; portly George IV’s pivotal 1822 visit to Scotland; the 1846 potato famine (Fry claims the Scots handled it much more humanely and efficiently than the Irish); and a 1988 oil-platform disaster in the North Sea. Less engaging for general readers are the learned but lugubrious disquisitions on land legislation and religious reform. Of great use are maps, a list of key characters and a chronology.
Rigorous history infused with boundless love.