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Best non-fiction and memoir to give for Christmas!

  12 Dec '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Take full advantage of free first class delivery on all UK orders until 14th December, and make your loved ones’ Christmas extra special with a hand-picked book under the tree. Whether you are looking for the ideal book for a nature lover, a politics enthusiast, a music fan or a geology whiz, we really have something for everyone. Browse our incredibly varied selection of recently published non-fiction and memoir below, and click on the book covers to find out more!

For the railway enthusiast – Scotland’s Lost Branch Lines

In this comprehensively researched book, David Spaven traces the birth, life and eventual death of Scotland’s branch lines, and outlines the controversial closure process through the unique stories of how a dozen routes lost their trains in the 1960s. This fascinating and insightful book also looks to the future of the rail industry and the potential reinstatement of branch lines at a time of climate crisis, making the book hugely topical.

For a trip down memory lane – Just Go Down to the Roa

Delinquency, bohemianism, seventies counterculture – Just Go Down to the Road has it all. James Campbell, esteemed literary critic, tells his fascinating life story, from his early days hitchhiking to the formation of his friendship with James Baldwin. Described as ‘a memoir which is also a work of art’ by Allan Massie in The Scotsman, this book is a fascinating read no matter your age or interests.

For the one who needs a laugh – Is There a Pigeon in the Room?

Is There a Pigeon in the Room? is a deeply personal book about Cameron Wyllie’s remarkable four-decade career in teaching. It’s a tapestry of anecdotes and reflections on topics like drugs, parenting and sex education, laced with stories about memorable individuals. This book, both funny and touching, charts the surprising trajectory of a career which culminated in his appointment as Principal of George Heriot’s, one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious schools.

For the animal lover – The Horizontal Oak

Ever since her pet sheep Lulu accompanied her to school at the age of seven, animals and nature have been at the heart of Polly Pullar’s world. This beautifully poignant book tells Polly’s story, of family secrets and tragedy, but also of hope and love. This is ultimately an uplifting book that tells of Polly’s incredible connection with nature, and how the natural world can give us strength.

For the one interested in Scottish culture – The Coffin Roads

‘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. This may seem a slightly morbid subject matter, but the book is anything but, with humorous anecdotes and real introspection about our traditions around death today.

For the nature writing fanatic – Hindsight

In 2019, Jenna Watt took part in the stalking of a hind on the vast Highland estate of Corrour: part of an immersive attempt to understand the ideas that lie behind ‘rewilding’, and what it means emotionally and physically to participate in Scotland’s deer cull. Piece by piece she unravels the story of that one day spent hunting the hind, interlaced with her discovery that her ancestors were deer stalkers, game keepers and ghillies on a Highland estate. This is a fresh ecofeminist take on rewilding that is sure to be a hit with the nature writing enthusiast in your life.

For the Mary, Queen of Scots enthusiast – Homecoming

If you think you know everything there is to know about Mary, Queen of Scots, think again. This book tells of Mary’s Scottish years through the dramatic location which shaped her life. 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 friendsʼ 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.

For the follower of politics – The Fire of the Dragon

This is a truly fascinating, and at times chilling, book from former Channel 4 Foreign Correspondent Ian Williams about China’s new Cold War. Under President Xi Jinping, China’s global ambitions have taken a dangerous new turn. Bullying and intimidation have replaced diplomacy, and trade, investment, even big-spending tourists and students have been weaponised. With the developments in Ukraine over this year, and political turmoil in the UK, it is more important than ever that we open our eyes to the reality of China’s bid for global dominance.

For the soul lover – Hey, America

Moving, insightful and wide-ranging, Hey America! charts the evolution of sixties soul from the margins of American society to the mainstream, culminating in the rise of urban hip-hop and the dramatic stand-off between Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement. This is the untold story of black music – its triumph over racism, segregation, undercapitalised record labels, media discrimination and political anxiety – told through the perspective of the most powerful office in the world.

For the geology enthusiasts – James Hutton

Discover one of the Scottish Enlightenment’s brightest stars. Among the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, the name of James Hutton is overlooked. Yet his Theory of the Earth revolutionised the way we think about how our planet was formed and laid the foundation for the science of geology. Yet much of his story remains a mystery. His papers, library and mineral collection all vanished after his death and only a handful of letters survive. He seemed to be a lifelong bachelor, yet had a secret son whom he supported throughout his life. This book uses new sources and original documents to bring Hutton the man to life and places him firmly among the geniuses of his time.

For the fishing aficionado – The Salt Roads

Salt fish may seem like a niche subject, but John Goodlad brings such verve to this story that whether you are interested in fishing or not, we can assure you this book will fascinate you. This is the extraordinary story of how salt fish from Shetland became one of the staple foods of Europe, powered an economic boom and inspired artists, writers and musicians. This not only tells the history but also looks to the future of the industry and addresses today’s pressing themes of sustainability, climate change and food choices.

For the British history buff – Cheers, Mr Churchill

This is the story of how god-fearing teetotaller Edwin Scrymgeour fought and won an election against Britain’s most famous politician. It begins with their first electoral contest in 1908 and follows their political sparring over the next 15 years until Scrymgeour’s eventual victory in 1922, when he became the only prohibitionist ever elected to the House of Commons. As well as vividly bringing to life an extraordinary personal and political rivalry, the book also explores for the first time Churchill’s controversial relationship with Scotland, including his attitude to devolution.

For the all-weather walkers – Islands of the Evening

Fourteen centuries ago, Irish saints journeyed to the Hebrides and Scotland’s Atlantic shore. They sought spiritual solitude in remote places, but their mission was also to spread the word of God to the peoples of Scotland. Columba was the most famous of these pioneers, but the many others are now largely forgotten. Alistair Moffat sets off in search of these elusive figures in this beautifully written book. As he follows in their footsteps, he finds their traces not so much in tangible remains as in the spirit and memory of the places that lay at the very edge of their world.

For the Viking enthusiast – The Greatest Viking

This is the story of Olav Haraldsson, the greatest Viking who ever lived. A ruthless Viking warrior who named his most prized battle weapon after the Norse goddess of death, Olav Haraldsson and his mercenaries wrought terror and destruction from the Baltic to Galicia in the early eleventh century. Thousands were put to the sword, enslaved or ransomed. In England, Canterbury was sacked, its archbishop murdered and London Bridge pulled down. The loot amassed from years of plunder helped Olav win the throne of Norway, and a century after his death he was proclaimed ‘Eternal King’ and has been a national hero there ever since.

For the archaeology lover – The Perfect Sword

If you know an archaeology enthusiast, this really is the book for them. It is the story of the Bamburgh Sword – one of the finest swords ever forged. In 2000, archaeologist Paul Gething rediscovered a sword. An unprepossessing length of rusty metal, it had been left in a suitcase for thirty years. But Paul had a suspicion that the sword had more to tell than appeared, so he sent it for specialist tests. When the results came back, he realised that what he had in his possession was possibly the finest, and certainly the most complex, sword ever made, which had been forged in seventh-century Northumberland by an anonymous swordsmith.

For the Scottish history fan – The Picts

For anyone interested in the enigmatic Picts, this is the definitive book they need this festive season. This is the first dedicated book on the Picts that covers in detail both their archaeology and their history. It examines their kingdoms, culture, beliefs and everyday lives from their origins to their end, not only incorporating current thinking on the subject, but also offering innovative perspectives that transform our understanding of the early history of Scotland.

For the geography buff – Majestic River

This is truly one of the greatest stories of world exploration ever told. By the late eighteenth century, the river Niger was a 2,000-year-old two-part geographical problem. Solving it would advance European knowledge of Africa, provide a route to commercial opportunity and help eradicate the evil of slavery. Mungo Park achieved fame by discovering which way the river ran, but lost his life trying to find where it ends. Majestic River celebrates Mungo Park’s achievements and illuminates his rich afterlife – how and why he was commemorated long after his death. 

For the fan of a dram – Whiskypedia

Whiskypedia is simply the ultimate guide to Scotch whisky, and it has been updated for 2022 to include new entries on all the latest distilleries. Why does Scotch whisky taste as it does? Where do the flavours come from? How might they have changed over the years? The flavour of Scotch whisky is as much influenced by history, craft and tradition as it is by science. Whiskypedia explores these influences. Introductory sections provide an historical overview, and an explanation of the contribution made by each stage of the production process.

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