"Undiscovered Dundee" is a fascinating book that takes the reader back to a lost Dundee, or perhaps to a series of lost Dundees. The publisher's introduction sets out the premise well. Dundee appears to today's visitor to be a modern city. Very little of its history remains visible in what still stands above ground, in stark contrast to cities such as Edinburgh or York. In Dundee's case the physical reminders of the past have largely been swept away in the name of progress or regeneration.
Brian King therefore takes a very different approach to bringing Dundee's past back to life. He largely bypasses the physical city and instead focuses on people from or associated with Dundee and, in many cases, particular incidents in their lives which shed light on some aspect of life and death here. Some of the people he features became famous; and some became infamous; and some were almost overlooked by history altogether. Almost but not quite. Brian King grew up in the Dundee of the 1960s and 1970s and want on to study history at the University of Edinburgh before becoming a professional searcher of public records. This background comes through well in "Undiscovered Dundee", which draws the reader in with an accessible and engaging style, yet at the same time is obviously very diligently researched. This book should be considered essential reading by anyone from, or with any interest in, Dundee.
The book is divided into chapters which each take a different theme, and within each theme the author presents a series of sketches, each of a few pages in length. As an example, the opening chapter looks at "Time and Chance". Here we read about the stampede which left many dead at Springthorpe's Music Hall in 1865, with those involved surviving or dying apparently at random. Here, too, we read of the 1967 selection of a Lord Provost of Dundee by means of the cut of a pack of cards. "Hidden Depths" looks at a series of individuals who had far more to them than met the eye; while "Forgotten Days", "Heros" and "Villains" also get their own chapters.
Changing emphasis slightly, "Written in Stone" looks at statues, gravestones and inscriptions in the city, while "The Radical Town" looks at politics and politicians. Here we read about George Nicholl Barnes, the forgotten leader of the Labour Party. Here, too, is the fascinating story of the mutual dislike between the City of Dundee and Winston Churchill, who served as its MP from 1908 to 1922: a dislike which led to an exceedingly grudging offer of the Freedom of the City being made to the then Prime Minister in 1943: and Churchill's rejection of it.