Scotland: The Story of a Nation

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9780871137982: Scotland: The Story of a Nation

Drawing on a great deal of modern scholarship that has redefined the nation's story, Magnus Magnusson vividly re-creates the fascinating history of Scotland, offering the most up-to-date and comprehensive history available today. Magnusson, who received an honorary knighthood for his contributions to the preservation of Scotland's heritage, casts the nation's historical trajectory as a long struggle toward nationhood. He explains the roots of the original Scots and examines the extent to which Scotland was shaped by the Romans, the Picts, the Vikings, and the English. He casts a sober eye on the many deep-seated myths that have developed over the years, assessing their sometimes-questionable credibility while still fully appreciating their importance to the people of Scotland. In addition to this cultural history, Magnusson offers a detailed account of the political and economic forces that shaped the nation's fate. Packed with colorful stories, bloody battles, vicious political intrigues, and a rich pageant of historical characters, it is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of this fascinating land.

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Review:

Near Stirling, Scotland, stands a memorial to the warrior William Wallace, put to death at the orders of the English king Edward I in 1305. Within that memorial stands a glass case, and inside of it stands a broadsword 1.7 meters long. Legend has it that the hero himself wielded the weapon, and so "Wallace's Sword" it is.

Magnus Magnusson, a native of Iceland who has long lived in and written about Scotland, may spoil it for some readers when he writes that Wallace's Sword probably wasn't Wallace's. To use it, Wallace would have had to have stood at least 6-foot-6 in height and to have lived two centuries later. The business of the sword is just one of the "cherished conceptions" about Scottish history that Magnusson picks apart and then, corrected and improved, restores. At other turns he considers the true identity of the legendary king Macbeth (and entertains some surprising but plausible theories about the king's alter ego); reconstructs decisive battles such as Otterburn, Flodden, and Glencoe; and looks closely at the complicated negotiations (and, many would say, treacheries) that led to the union with England of 1707. Magnusson closes with an account of modern independence movements and the recent return of some measure of national autonomy, opening a "new chapter in a nation's story, which the people of Scotland are now beginning to write."

Lucid, witty, and unafraid of controversy, Magnusson's book does a fine job of condensing a complex history, stretching out for 10 millennia, into a single volume. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Magnus Magnusson is an Icelandic national who has spent most of his life in Scotland. After studying English at Oxford, he joined the Scottish Daily Express in 1953, and The Scotsman in 1961 as Assistant Editor. Since 1967 he has been a freelance writer and broadcaster, specialising in history, archaeology and environmental affairs. He has presented many programmes on BBC TV, including Chronicle (1967--80), Mastermind (1972--97), and a 12-part series on Vikings! (1980). He has published more than 20 books.

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