Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed The World by James Buchan - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Flower Of Scotland

Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed The World


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LAST YEAR THE American historian Arthur Herman published a book on the Scottish Enlightenment with the subtitle 'The Scots' Invention of the Modern World'. James Buchan's subtitle is 'How Eknburgh Changed the World'. The similarity may suggest that one of these cancels out the other. In reality they are complementary. Herman's canvas is broader; Buchan goes deeper, and his work, with its narrower focus, is more detailed. Those interested in the subject should read Herrnan first, then Buchan. Both books are very good.

Only a dullard or a neophiliac, who supposes that the modern world began with the Internet, can fail to take an interest in the phenomenon of eighteenth-century Scotland. Here was a country distinguished for the previous century and a half by a fierce and narrow-minded fanaticism comparable to that of the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, a country that was poor and economically backward, and one deserted by its most enterprising sons, which within the space of two generations reinvented itself, and in so doing, as Buchan says, changed the world. Those who lived through this transformation were themselvespuzzled as to how it had come about.

Buchan doesn't waste time discussing to what extent this flowering was the consequence of the

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