Dundee has long been regarded as Scotland's fourth city, a place whose growth and prosperity revolved around, as any geography scholar or student will be able to tell you, "jam, jute and journalism". Things are less simple today, and Dundee's economy is far more diverse than it has ever been. The importance of tourism to the city has been reflected in recent years by many books about Dundee, and the question inevitably arises: what does "Dundee at a Glance" by Malcolm Archibald add that is different and which makes it worth picking up from the bookshelf and carrying to the checkout?
That's actually a very easy question to answer. "Dundee at a Glance" is a fascinating book with a rather misleading name. The name conjours up something rather superficial, perhaps a short leaflet with a map that you might pick up in a local Tourist Information Centre. That impression is instantly confounded when you first encounter what is actually quite a weighty volume. The first six pages of the book set out an excellent short history of Dundee, and then you find yourself transported straight into the meat of the book, reading a quarter-page history of the origins of Abbotsford Place/Street, which is, it turns out, named after Sir Walter Scott's house in the Scottish Borders. Then we come to Abercrombie Street, and then to Aberdour Place, and so on, all the way to Yewbank Avenue in Broughty Ferry.
"Dundee at a Glance" tells the story of the origins of the names and sets out events that have taken place in over 600 streets in the city. There are also entries for significant buildings, for parks and monuments, as well as themes of importance to the story of Dundee. For example we find a page about the Frigate Unicorn, a page and a half about jute, and entries about ferries across the Tay and about Castle Huntly, as well as all the individual street entries. Browsing the book is a fascinating experience. How did Birnam Place come to be named after a village in Perthshire? What is the story behind the Greenmarket? On the other hand, the origins of the name of Soapwork Lane might appear obvious, but it's nice to have the story told.
This book should be considered essential reading by anyone who lives in or frequently visits Dundee. It might have more accurately been titled, or perhaps subtitled, "A Dundee Gazetteer", but that does nothing to detract from the absolute mine of information contained within.