Scottish History for Dummies by William Knox

scottish history for dummiesA basic introduction…

🙂 🙂 🙂 😐

At the risk of sounding obnoxiously conceited, I’m going to start by saying this book isn’t really aimed at me. I have a pretty good knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s history in general and a reasonably in-depth amateur knowledge of some periods in particular. However I was intrigued to see how the ‘…for Dummies’ series would present history, having only used them in the past for more technical subjects, and I always find it’s good to start with a subject you know something about to get a feel for the quality and accuracy of the series.

This book covers the entire human history of Scotland from the Stone Age to the current day in just over 300 pages. It is therefore to be expected that it’s going to be a fairly quick romp and indeed it is. In fact, the first several sections irritated me quite a lot by their superficiality – not just the Stone Age, etc., but also the Romans, the Vikings and right on past the Bruce and Wallace era. The section on the Kings of Scotland between Bruce and the Union was a sprint – admittedly they did have a tendency to die young, but some of them only got a couple of pages. It’s not that these sections lacked facts; but they did lack much interpretation and I didn’t feel they were put into the context of the wider world particularly well. In this early part of the book, the author has also included lots of little jokey asides, often schoolboy humour about sexual mores, and he is a huge enthusiast for the exclamation mark!!!! I think there may be more exclamation marks in this book than in the whole of world literature put together!!!!

Wallace Monument  by BusterBrownBB
Wallace Monument
by BusterBrownBB

However, once we get to what we would think of as modern history – the last 300 years or so, the book becomes more in-depth with more analysis and a greater feeling of context. The ‘About the Author’ section tells us that this is the period in which Knox has done most of his work and I think that shows. Even here, though, there are some issues where I wondered if a reader would be left floundering for lack of information. For instance, the fueing system of land rents rates one sentence. I felt it would actually have been clearer to omit reference to it entirely than to explain it so inadequately, and there were many other examples like this. In general, however, these later sections give a much fuller picture of Scottish society and how it changed in response to the rise and fall of Empire and beyond.

The book is very much in the style of the ‘…for Dummies’ series, using icons and bullet-point lists to highlight information the author considers important for the reader to remember. This works reasonably well, though sometimes it felt a bit patronising. What worked less well were the grammatical errors and typos – they didn’t by any means make the book unreadable but there were too many of them in what is after all a scholarly work. Sometimes the lack of grammatical clarity led to errors in fact – for instance, on page 14 the author says Scotland was uninhabitable between the second century AD and the 13th century – a surprise, I imagine, to the people who lived there. What he meant was that it was uninhabitable for thousands of years at a much earlier period due to the Ice Age. The error is caused by a lack of clarity in the writing style, and again there are other examples of this. As so often, I found myself wondering if the editor had read the book.

William Knox
William Knox

I don’t want to be too harsh on the book because it does provide a basic introduction to Scottish history and that’s what it sets out to do. And certainly for modern history I felt it gave a good overview. But I felt the earlier sections were too superficial even as an introduction, there were too many areas that lacked clarity and as a result were confusing, and personally I disliked the author’s jokey style. I was also disappointed to see that there’s no bibliography included, so anyone wishing to read further is given no guidance on where to look next. So in conclusion I fear I can only give a lukewarm recommendation to this one overall, though I’d recommend it more strongly to someone who was primarily interested in the sections on modern history.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

33 thoughts on “Scottish History for Dummies by William Knox

  1. Hmm, sounds like the author fancies himself as the next ‘Horrible Histories’ or something. Exclamation marks!!! Completely hilarious in the absence of actual humour!!!


  2. Now I know I read and commented on your review of this on Az, but I LOVE that magnificent, beautiful photograph (no I don’t mean the chappie who does rather look a little offended that you have expressed some criticism) High Fives to Buster Brown!

  3. What?!!!!! No editing??!?!??!!!! And no Bibliography for a scholarly work of nonfiction!!?!?!?!!?!!! How can we take this book seriously???!?!?!?!!!!!!! Nice photo, though. Maybe he should write the picture book of Scottish history. Oh, but even nonfiction picture books require bibliographies these days.

    • I know!?!?!?!!!! 😆 I was amazed at no bibliography though – especially since there were clear references to other people’s books in the text too. Maybe they reckon us dummies won’t want to read anything more…

    • Haha!!!!!! You’re so right!!!! Thanks, Cleo – yep, I was amazed at no bibliography myself. I thought maybe it was an ARC but no, definitely the finished version.

  4. Having read George MacDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, the biography of Mary Queen of Scots and watched Brave Heart I feel that I have a good foundation to /begin/ to study the history of Scotland. 😀

    Your review was fair, I think, having delved into some of those Dummies books. Some are helpful, but the presentation annoys me no end.

    • Especially Braveheart! It was so historically accurate… 😉

      Yes, I’ve tried a couple and usually end up feeling a bit patronised. I think they’re better when they’re dealing with technical things, the way the earliest ones did. I don’t think the style really transfers well to things like history.

  5. FictionFan – I know what you mean about a book glossing over things. I think it’s so hard to balance giving a good amount of information with ‘information dump.’ Still, it sounds as though a bit too much was skimmed over. Shame, too, because Scottish history is really interesting. Still, considering the kind of book it is…. Anyway, think I’ll wait on this one.

    • Yes, I don’t think this format really lends itself to such a long time period. I found myself struggling to know who it would really work for – people who read history for fun probably wouldn’t go for the ‘dummies’ format, and it’s not in-depth enough for students. Maybe for tourists just to give them a brief overview before visiting, perhaps…

  6. I love exclamation marks, too, though. I mean, they’re quite fun to use. Dadblameit.

    You know, I once had one for programming–a Dummies book, that is–and I couldn’t really make much sense of the whole thing, which was vexing.

  7. I kind of love that you reviewed a “For Dummies” book! I’ve never read them. There are definitely subjects on which I’m a dummy but I guess I don’t like to admit it!

    • Haha! For some reason the people at Amazon Vine keep offering me ‘For Dummies’ books for review – I try not to take it personally! But I don’t read them in public… 😉

  8. I’m totally blank regarding Scottish History, though I’d love to read about it. SO I guess I qualify for the ‘dummy’ here! lol! Is it a good book to read as the first introduction to Scottish History?

    • Haha! I don’t think you’ll be alone in that – and I’m the same with Indian history! Yes, this is a reasonable introduction, so long as you can put up with the ‘for Dummies’ style – it covers most of the basics, though it is pretty basic…

  9. It sounds like a great book, even though I haven’t tried any in the Dummies series. I really want to know more about Scottish history – and no, you didn’t sound obnoxious – but have no idea where to start. Well, I have a start now! Thank you 🙂

    • It certainly provides a good basic introduction in chronological order. And the format means it’s fairly easy to get to the bits you’re most interested in if you want to dip in and out rather than reading it straight through. I hope you enjoy it! (And I’m glad I didn’t sound too obnoxious! 😉 )

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