St Kilda, now a World Heritage Site and once home to the most remote community in Britain, has long been seen as a place of tragedy. Sepia images of intrepid seabird hunters and the abandoned village street have been used to evoke a heroic, ultimately doomed "struggle for existence" on the edge of the Atlantic, a struggle that ended with the evacuation of 1930.
This book, the first general account for thirty years, reconsiders the islanders' story and presents a radical new interpretation. Andrew Fleming argues that this tale of inevitability doesn't do the St Kildans justice. They have often been regarded as exotic, but as the photographs of ordinary children in the book show, they were not so very different from other Hebrideans. The archipelago was settled by a hard-working, viable community well before 2000 BC; in prehistoric and Norse times, St Kilda may in fact have played a pivotal role in the region.
Well into the Victorian period St Kilda was a well-organised, economically diversified and culturally rich community, which dealt effectively with outsiders and won their sympathy. Indeed the St Kildans themselves colluded with the wider world to create the iconic island of today. Andrew Fleming retells a fascinating tale and reveals a wealth of new archaeological discoveries into the bargain.
The author knows St Kilda as intimately as anyone now living and his accessible and well written first-hand account of the archaeological deciphering of the island is enthralling, just as his underlying view of the nature of life on St Kilda and the reasons for its eventual evacuation are thoroughly convincing. This is an essential book for all those fascinated by the realities of island life.