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2022 Previews: History and Politics

  28 Jan '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

This year, Birlinn’s history and politics books tackle the most thorny topics of our time including Scottish Independence and China’s aggressive foreign policy, while looking back at both famous and overlooked areas of history. From the enigmatic Picts, through to Winston Churchill’s electoral defeat in Scotland in 1922, right up to the 2008 financial crash, discover more about Scotland’s history and culture with our exciting upcoming books.

  • After Brexit: The Economics of Scottish Independence, Gavin McCrone (March)
    After Brexit by Gavin McCrone is a meticulously researched and non-partisan analysis of the case for Scottish independence in light of the political changes since the 2014 referendum. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 60 per cent of the Scottish electorate voted to remain part of the European Union– the only part of the UK to reject Brexit so unequivocally. This new analysis takes into account a host of economic issues including deficit, debt, currency, energy (including North Sea oil and gas), pensions, mortgages and the financial sector. It weighs up the advantages of rejoining the EU single market, either as a full EU member or as a member of the EEA, with the disadvantages of a hard border with the rest of the UK. Author Gavin McCrone is well placed to write this book, having written and lectured about the Scottish economy over a period of many years. For over two decades he was Chief Economic Adviser to successive Secretaries of State for Scotland and has headed two Scottish Government departments.
  • The Bargain: Why the UK Works So Well For Scotland, Tom Miers (May)
    Three hundred years ago Scotland entered into an extraordinary bargain with its English neighbour. Like all the best deals it involved giving away little – the tokens of sovereignty – in exchange for major gains: economic, political and cultural. Control over key domestic matters was retained. Today that Bargain, updated for the democratic era, is better than ever. In this incisive book, Tom Miers – a Conservative councillor for the Scottish Borders – sets out his stall in the debate over Independence and calls for Unionists to equip themselves with a full understanding of this Bargain and how it applies in today’s world. The Union is not just about money, or even sentiment about a shared past, but a canny and sophisticated arrangement that benefits all nations of the UK and is the foundation of Scotland’s success and unique place in the world. Cutting through the rhetoric, the author lays out the information required to counter the Scottish Nationalist argument.
  • The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War, Ian Williams (August)
    Under President Xi Jinping, China’s global ambitions have taken a dangerous new turn. Bullying has replaced diplomacy, and China is increasingly willing to use coercion to get its way. Trade, investment, even big-spending tourists and students have been weaponised. The Communist Party believes it is fighting an ideological war on multiple fronts and is acting with increasing belligerence and impunity. China’s goal of ‘recovering’ Taiwan – regarded as a renegade province since the end of the civil war in 1949 – is one of the obvious flashpoints for a Third World War, but its aggressive foreign policy is playing out in multiple locations. Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are increasingly beholden to China; the border clash with India in 2020 was the most serious since 1962; and its neo-colonial enterprises in Africa have created ever-increasing indebtedness and dependence. In this thought-provoking and alarming book, veteran China specialist and foreign correspondent Ian Williams examines how China’s aggressive foreign policy is arguably the biggest threat to our security and is a problem that not just the West – but the rest of the world – ignores at its peril.
  • Under the Hammer: Edward I in Scotland, Fiona Watson (March)
    Few aspects of Scottish history inspire as fervent an interest as the wars with England. The exploits of not one, but two, national heroes – William Wallace and Robert Bruce – have excited the attention of a host of novelists, filmmakers, artists and songwriters, as well as historians. But few have ventured to examine it in depth from an English perspective. Yet there could have been no Wallace or Bruce, no Stirling Bridge or Bannockburn, without the English kings’ efforts to subjugate their northern neighbour. This book explores how Edward I attempted to bring the Scottish kingdom under his control during the last years of the thirteenth and early years of the fourteenth centuries. Despite England’s overwhelming military might, victory was by no means inevitable, and Scotland’s leaders proved able to create a successful front to repel a far more powerful enemy. Packed with detail, description and analysis, Under the Hammer paints a vivid picture of a key period in the history of both nations. This is a new edition of an acclaimed book which paints an illuminating portrait of medieval Scotland at a key point in its history.
  • Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots, Rosemary Goring (August)
    One of the most famous queens in history, Mary Stuart lived in her homeland for just twelve years: as a dauntless child who laughed at her friends? seasickness as they sailed to safety in France and later, on her return as a 18-year-old widow to take control of a nation riven with factions, dissent and religious strife. Brief though her time in Scotland was, her experience profoundly influenced who she was and what happened to her. In this book, Rosemary Goring tells the story of Mary’s Scottish years through the often dramatic and atmospheric locations and settings where the events that shaped her life took place and also examines the part Scotland, and its tumultuous court and culture, played in her downfall. Whether or not Mary Stuart emerges blameless or guilty, in this evocative retelling she can be seen for who she really was.
  • Scotland’s Lost Branch Lines, David Spaven (March)
    The infamous ‘Beeching Axe’ swept away virtually every Scottish branch line in the 1960s. Conventional wisdom viewed these losses as regrettable yet inevitable in an era of growing affluence and rising car ownership. This ground-breaking analysis of Beeching’s flawed approach to closures has unearthed strong evidence of a ‘stitchup’ – the Beeching Report ignored the scope for sensible economies which would have allowed a significant number of axed routes to survive and prosper. David Spaven traces the birth, life and eventual death of Scotland’s branch lines, and dissects the controversial closure process through the unique stories of how a dozen routes lost their trains in the 1960s: the lines to Ballachulish, Ballater, Callander, Crail, Crieff, Fraserburgh, Kelso, Kilmacolm, Leven, Peebles, Peterhead and St Andrews. He concludes by exploring a potential renaissance of branch lines, propelled by concerns over road congestion and the climate emergency.
  • Clans and Tartans of Scotland, Roddy Martine (June)
    Throughout the world there exists an enduring fascination with our ancestry – who we are and where we come from. Nowhere is this more evident than with the generations of Scots who over the centuries have left their native Scotland to create a new life in the New World – North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The Scots are a remarkable race with a justifiably proud history and culture which they have successfully passed on through generations. This compact book sets out to identify the larger Scottish clan and family names, their tartans, septs (dependent family names), heraldic crests, mottos, ancestral lands and allegiances.
  • Placenames of Scotland, Iain Taylor (June)
    Scotland is a land of many languages – including Gaelic, Pictish, Brythonic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Modern English among them. The result is an often bewildering series of overlapping layers of place-names, difficult at times to understand and even pronounce. This book, featuring 8,000 names ranging from districts, towns and villages to rivers, lochs and mountains, is the essential guide to Scottish placenames, illustrating the extent to which Scotland’s languages were spoken over its territory. Placenames open up a window not only on to the geography of the country but on to its history, providing evidence not found in documented sources. In addition to an introduction on the history and nature of placenames in Scotland, this book contains a guide to Gaelic pronunciation, maps and suggestions for further reading in this fascinating subject.
  • The Coffin Roads: Journeys to the West, Ian Bradley (July)
    ‘Coffin roads’ along which bodies were carried for burial are a marked feature of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands and islands – many are now popular walking and cycling routes. This book journeys along eight coffin roads to discover and explore the distinctive traditions, beliefs and practices around dying, death and mourning in the communities which created and used them. The result is a fascinating snapshot into place and culture. After more than a century when death was very much a taboo subject, this book argues that aspects of the distinctive West Highland and Hebridean way of death and approach to dying and mourning may have something helpful and important to offer to us today.
  • The Perfect Sword: Forging the Middle Ages, Paul Gething and Edoardo Albert (September)
    In 2000, archaeologist Paul Gething rediscovered a sword. An unprepossessing length of rusty metal, it had been left on a shelf for thirty years. But Paul had a suspicion that the sword had more to tell than appeared, so he sent it for further tests. When the results came back, he realised that he had in his possession what was possibly the finest, and certainly the most complex, sword ever made, which had been forged in seventh-century Northumberland by an anonymous swordsmith. This is the story of this sword: how and why it was made, who made it and what it meant to the warriors and kings who wielded it for three centuries. It is also the story of the archaeologists and swordsmiths who found, studied and attempted to recreate the sword using only the materials and technologies available to the smith who first made it. The result is a remarkable journey into the life and items of a seminal but little documented period of history when the foundations for what would become England, Wales and Scotland were laid.
  • Northern Lights: The Arctic Scots, Edward J. Cowan (September)
    The search for a Northwest Passage, connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific was one of the great maritime challenges, and it was not until the 1850s that the first one-way partial transit of the passage was made. Previous attempts had all failed, and some, like the ill-fated at-tempt by Sir John Franklin in 1845, ended in tragedy with the loss of the entire expedition comprising two ships and 129 men. This book charts the remarkable contribution to Arctic exploration made by the Scots – whose role has often been overlooked because identified as English by modern writers. It includes many significant names: John Ross, an eccentric hell-raiser from Stranraer, veteran of three Arctic expeditions; his nephew, James Clark Ross, the most experienced explorer of his generation and discoverer of the Magnetic North Pole; Dr John Richardson of Dumfries who became an accidental cannibal and deliberate executioner of a murderer as well as a most engaging natural historian; and Orcadian John Rae, the man who first discovered evidence of Franklin’s demise. But it also pays tribute to many others too, the Scotch Irish, the whalers and not least the Inuit, with whom the explorers cooperated and generally enjoyed good relations, in many crucial cases depending on their knowledge of the environment.
  • The Salt Roads: How Fish Made a Culture, John Goodlad (September)
    The salt fish industry powered the economy of Shetland for more than two hundred years, and herring and cod from here was a staple food throughout Europe. This book tells the extraordinary story of Shetland’s most enduring export. It ranges from the wild waters of the North Atlantic and the remote ice filled fjords of west Greenland to the Basque country, from the fishing grounds of Iceland to the Jewish shtetls of Poland and from the mountains of Faroe to the flat coastline of the Netherlands. In addition to the economy, fishing has permeated the culture of Europe and has inspired artists, musicians, film makers and writers. Their work is effortlessly woven into the book, presenting the salt fish trade through a different lens. As well as following the historical thread and exploring how very different cultures were drawn together by the salt fish trade, John Goodlad meets those whose lives revolve around the industry in the twenty-first century and addresses today’s pressing themes of sustainability, climate change and food choices.
  • A Taste for Treason: The Letter That Smashed a Spy Ring, Andrew Jeffrey (September)
    When Dundee housewife Mary Curran became suspicious of flamboyant hairdresser Jessie Jordan’s frequent trips to Nazi Germany in 1937, she could not have known that she would become one of the world’s most successful amateur spycatchers. Thanks to Mary’s tip-off, MI5 and the FBI began major spy hunts on both sides of the Atlantic and security services in other countries rounded up yet more nests of Nazi spies. And so, again thanks to Mary, the Anglo-American special intelligence relationship was born. Featuring parallel Nazi espionage plots in Europe and North America that converged on a Scottish post office and set against a dramatic background of mounting international tension, this is a story shot through with all the staples of spy thrillers – seedy traitors, alluring femmes fatales, sinister Nazi thugs and glamorous movie stars. And all of it is true.
  • Cheers Mr Churchill: Winston in Scotland, Andrew Liddle (October)
    One hundred years ago, Winston Churchill prepared to defend his parliamentary seat of Dundee in the 1922 General Election. He had represented the industrial town since 1908, enjoyed a majority of more than 15,000 votes and confidently described it as ‘a life seat’. The cabinet minister had fought and won five previous elections in the city, and confidently expected to win a sixth – but one man had other ideas. Churchill was in for the fight of his life. Cheers, Mr Churchill tells the incredible true story of how the god-fearing teetotaller Edwin Scrymgeour fought and won an election against Britain’s most famous politician. The story begins with their first electoral contest in 1908 and follows their political rivalry over the next five elections until Scrymgeour’s eventual victory in 1922. Using first-hand accounts and an array of fascinating characters, Andrew Liddle vividly brings to life an extraordinary personal and political rivalry – and tells the story of a rare defeat for Britain’s greatest fighter.
  • Picts: Scourge of Rome, Rulers of the North, Gordon Noble and Nicholas Evans (July)
    The mysterious and enigmatic Picts, who flourished in northern Scotland from c. 300 AD, have long been a subject of popular appeal. Their intricately carved symbol stones, whose meaning has remained an enigma for well over a thousand years, offer a tantalising glimpse into the culture of a highly sophisticated society which defied the might of the Roman empire only to disappear at the end of the first millennium AD. Yet historical sources are limited and there are few books on the Picts and none that reflect the significant advances in our knowledge that have been made in the last ten years. This book redresses that balance. As well as including an historical overview of the Picts from the late Roman sources to the tenth century, it also covers kingship and elite culture, everyday life, burial traditions, pagan and Christian belief, art and crafting, and the end of Pictland during the Viking Age.
  • The Last Viking: The Life of Olav Haraldsson, Desmond Seward (November)
    A national hero in his native land, Olav Haraldsson has as much resonance for the Norwegians as King Arthur does for the British. Unlike Arthur, however, Olav was a real historical figure: a ruthless Viking warrior who named his axe after the Norse goddess of death and took part in Svein Forkbeard’s invasion of England, during which he pulled down London Bridge and sacked Canterbury (and watched its archbishop stoned to death). Later, the loot amassed from years of plunder helped him win the throne of Norway. Yet in a personal vendetta against the old Norse gods, Olav made Norway Christian, though cutting out the tongues and gouging out the eyes of anybody who remained pagan. Canonised after his death, his tomb became a national shrine, and churches were dedicated to him throughout Scandinavia and beyond. With reference to Norse sagas and early chronicles, veteran historian Desmond Seward has written a vivid, colourful and insightful account of a remarkable man and the times in which he lived.
  • Insurrection: Scotland’s Famine Winter, James Hunter (paperback, March)
    Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize. When Scotland’s 1846 potato crop was wiped out by blight, the country was plunged into crisis. In the Hebrides and the West Highlands a huge relief effort came too late to prevent starvation and death. Further east, meanwhile, towns and villages from Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, rose up in protest at the cost of the oatmeal that replaced potatoes as people’s basic foodstuff. Oatmeal’s soaring price was blamed on the export of grain by farmers and landlords cashing in on even higher prices elsewhere. As a bitter winter gripped and families feared a repeat of the calamitous famine then ravaging Ireland, grain carts were seized, ships boarded, harbours blockaded, a jail forced open, the military confronted. The army fired on one set of rioters. Savage sentences were imposed on others. But thousands-strong crowds also gained key concessions. Above all they won cheaper food. Those dramatic events have long been ignored or forgotten. Now, in James Hunter, they have their historian. The story he tells is, by turns, moving, anger-making and inspiring. In an era of food banks and growing poverty, it is also very timely.
  • A Dance Called America: The Scottish Highlands, the United Kingdom, and Canada, James Hunter (May)
    A dance was devised in eighteenth-century Skye. An exhilarating dance. A dance, a visitor reports, ‘the emigration from Skye has occasioned’. The visitor asks for the dance’s name. ‘They call it America,’ he’s told. In his introduction to this new edition of his classic and pioneering account of what happened to the thousands of people who left Skye and the wider north of Scotland to make new lives across the sea, historian James Hunter reflects on what led him to embark on travels and researches that took him across a continent. To Georgia, North Carolina and Montana; to Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and the Mohawk Valley; to prairie farms and great cities; to the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia and Washington State. This is the story of the Highland impact on the New World. The story of how soldiers, explorers, guerrilla fighters, fur traders, lumberjacks, railway builders and settlers from Scotland’s glens and islands contributed so much to the USA and Canada. The story of how an oppressed people found in North America a land of liberation.
  • The Rise and Fall of the City of Money, Ray Perman (paperback, August)
    It started and ended with a financial catastrophe. The Darien disaster of 1700 drove Scotland into union with England, but
    spawned the institutions which transformed Edinburgh into a global financial centre. The crash of 2008 wrecked the city’s
    two largest and oldest banks – and its reputation. In the three intervening centuries, Edinburgh became a hothouse of financial innovation, prudent banking, reliable insurance and smart investing. The face of the city changed too as money transformed it from medieval squalor to Georgian elegance. This is the story, not just of the institutions which were respected worldwide, but of the personalities too, such as the two hard-drinking Presbyterian ministers who founded the first actuarially-based pension fund; Sir Walter Scott, who faced financial ruin, but wrote his way out of it; the men who financed American railways and eastern rubber plantations with Scottish money; and Fred Goodwin, notorious CEO of RBS, who took the bank to be the biggest in the world, but crashed and burned in 2008.

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