The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Much More Useful than Writing Novels

The Lighthouse Stevensons


HarperCollins 208pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

For everyone who has heard of 'Lighthouse Stevensons' a thousand or more will recognise the name [Robert] Louis Stevenson. Yet he wrote of his father, and it might have been of his grandfather and uncles too, that: 'I might write books till 1900 and not serve humanity so well; and it moves me to a certain impatience, to see the little, frothy bubble that attends the author, his son, and compare it with the obscurity in which that better man finds his reward.' Louis was the tantony pig of the family, who, as Bella Bathurst says, with only small exaggeration, 'stole all the fame that posterity has to give'. Now she has set herself the task of giving the engineer Stevensons their due, and ha done so admirably. It is ironic that she has far more in common with Louis than with his engineer relations. For one thing, like him, she writes with unusual grace and charm, and that makes what might have been a dry book (despite the lashing waves on almost every page) a great pleasure to read.

The achievements of the Stevenson family were extraordinary:

Between 1790 and 1840, eight members of the family planned, designed and constructed the ninety-seven manned lighthouses that still speckle the Scottish coast, working in conditions and places that would be daunting even for modern engineers.

Just how daunting may be seen from Bathurst's

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