The title sounds chauvinistic, but Arthur Herman's jaunty study of Scot inventiveness is both good spirited and reasonable. The Smithsonian historian contends that the Scottish people developed the institutions, beliefs, and human character that made the West preeminent. Citing figures as diverse as John Stuart Mill, Robert Burns, and Andrew Carnegie, he explains how Scots invented modern civilization. The author of The Idea of Decline in Western History has written a fascinating corrective to centuries of quips about Scottish cheapness and kilts.
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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This latest work by Smithsonian historian Herman (The Idea of Decline in Western History) invites comparison to Duncan Bruce's recent The Scottish 100: Portraits of History's Most Influential Scots (Carroll & Graf, 2000), which reveals the Scottish ancestry of such notables as Immanuel Kant and Edvard Grieg. The subtitle of Herman's book says it all. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But a skeptic could easily be converted by Herman's deft presentation of simple historical facts. Scots have made massive contributions to education, science, history, and political thought just think of Adam Smith, David Hume, James Boswell, and James Watt, to name but a few. This work sets a high academic standard yet is carefully leavened with colorful anecdotes. The rendition of blowsy George IV's visit to Edinburgh, "hosted" by Sir Walter Scott, is hilarious. Herman is both lively and informative in debunking the myths we hold about the Highland Clearances and the development of clan tartans. Recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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, andsent 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.
Finally we have a book that explains how the . . . Scots created the modern civilized values America and the Western world still uphold. This is a great book, one which is now even more relevant than ever.”—Michael Barone, U.S. News & World Report, coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics
“Arthur Herman provides a convincing and compelling argument. . . . He is a natural writer, weaving philosophical concerns seamlessly through a historical narrative that romps along at a cracking pace.” —Irvine Welsh, The Guardian
“Herman’s book tells an exciting story with gusto . . . its range and narrative verve make it an entertaining and illuminating read.” —Sunday Times (London)
“A skeptic could easily be converted by Herman’s deft presentation . . . this work sets a high academic standard yet is carefully leavened with colorful anecdotes.