Scotland 101
September 3, 2012 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a popular history of Scotland--book, documentary, TV series, whatever--that I can consume before our trip there next summer?

My partner and I are planning to visit Scotland next summer and I'd like to learn a bit about the history of the country before we get there (I'm an American). I'm having a hard time choosing between the various popular history books out there, so would like to hear your recommendations. TV shows and documentaries are also welcome as long as I can access them somehow in the U.S. (I have a Netflix account). Other books about Scotland--culture, food, memoirs, particularly good guidebooks, etc.--are also welcome, as long as they aren't too academic or heavy (I've got my college coursework for that).

Thank you very much for your help!
posted by WorkingMyWayHome to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have not read these, but I know that my dad has read both (his family is Scottish and he's a history nerd so he's read quite a few books on this topic).

How the Scots Invented the Modern World

A History of Britain, Volume II: The Wars of the British 1603-1776

I used to be fascinated by Bonnie Prince Charlie when I was a kid; I remember we visited way too many musty damp castles when I was little and his story was one of the few things that made those treks interesting. I have no recollection anymore of what books I read on him, but this one seems to have decent ratings:

Bonnie Prince Charlie
posted by lyra4 at 4:39 PM on September 3, 2012

Not history as such, but I fell down a hole on Wikipedia a year or two back and ended up getting The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil out of the library (in a collection of McGrath plays) and thought it well worth reading. It appears a film version is on YouTube as well.
posted by hoyland at 5:10 PM on September 3, 2012

I enjoyed the bits of the bbc 'history of Scotland' that I caught when it was on a few years ago. It doesn't look to be streaming, but can be bought on amazon here.

I hope someone has a recommendation for music history - some terrific stuff has come out of Scotland.
posted by pymsical at 6:21 PM on September 3, 2012

There is an iTunes podcast that is a history of Scotland through walking tours of its cities. I did the Glasgow one a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed it.
posted by LarryC at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My American wife (now living with me in Scotland) recommends Scotland: The Story of a Nation by Magnus Magnusson, which she says is 'very comprehensive and readable'.

You'll also find when you're here that many locations around the country are owned/managed by Historic Scotland with a very high amount of information available in various exhibits. If you're interested in the history of the place you should get one of their Explorer passes and see a few different places.

Oh, and while you're here, if you're wanting to get around by public transport, absolutely look into one of Scotrail's travel passes - bus, train and ferries all over Scotland for a fraction of car hire for the same period.

Have an awesome time and if you're in Edinburgh, you should do a Mefi meetup!
posted by Happy Dave at 1:21 AM on September 4, 2012

Off-Kilter by Jonathan Meades. You can view them all on YouTube at the MeadesShrine playlist page.

It may not be the Scottish Tourist Board's, umm, preferred documentary series, but it's a superb series.
posted by Hartster at 3:07 AM on September 4, 2012

There's a lot of history. It's one thing that Scotland seems to really play to. Are there any particular periods you are interested in?

I'd second the 'A History of Scotland' recommendation. It's absolutely up-to-date, and caused some controversy. It's very watchable though and gives a vivid, coherent account of 'Scotland' (ie ~1000AD to present)

I'd also highly recommend Neil Oliver's other historical series; 'A history of Ancient Britain' which is split into
'A History of Ancient Britain (Series 1)' (~10000BC to 1000BC) and
'A history of Celtic Britain' (1000BC to ~0AD)

If you plan on visiting Edinburgh Castle + 1 other place then a Historic Scotland 'Explorer Pass' will pay for itself.

Would be delighted to have a wee meetup too!
Welcome to Scotland...
posted by BadMiker at 4:22 AM on September 4, 2012

I enjoyed Alistair Moffat's books about Scottish history - Before Scotland (prehistory), The Sea Kingdoms and The Faded Map. There are television series accompanying these but I suspect you will not be able to access them.

I haven't read Neal Ascherson's Stone Voices yet but it looks interesting - here's an LRB review.

Agree it is a big question and it would help to have a sense of what type of history (social / political / military?) you're interested in, or what period, or where you are travelling.
posted by paduasoy at 7:10 AM on September 4, 2012

Scotland: An Autobiography.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:21 AM on September 4, 2012

Thank you for all the great info! Sorry my question was so general; that's because I feel like I know nothing of the country and am starting at the very beginning. Also, we don't have an itinerary of any kind yet--only more or less firm plan so far is that we want to take the sleeper train from London to Fort William.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2012

That train route is spectacular from Glasgow on; up Loch Lomond and across Rannoch Moor. Corrour station has to be one of the most remote in Europe. If possible try to do this stretch in daylight and consider continuing to Mallaig; it continues to be spectacular.
posted by BadMiker at 1:22 AM on September 5, 2012

I'm sure you're scouring the Scotland tag already, but there are a lot of questions asked about places to visit etc in Scotland - here's one from today, for example.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:21 AM on September 5, 2012

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