"Enlightenment Edinburgh, A Guide" by Sheila Szatkowski is, as the title suggests, a book abut Edinburgh. Wander into a bookshop, especially a bookshop in Edinburgh, and you'll find shelves, or perhaps bookcases, full of books about Edinburgh. We believe it to be the best city on earth, and its clear from the volume of writing that Edinburgh inspires that we are not alone in that view. So it would be fair to say that on opening the packaging and extracting another book about Edinburgh we were not instantly hopeful. Anyone intending to enter this particular marketplace needs to find a way, or preferably more than one way, of making their book different from, and better than, all the other books about the city it will be sharing bookshop shelf space with.
But a first glance at this remarkable book shows that Sheila Szatkowski, and publishers Birlinn, have tackled this issue head-on and produced an outstanding book about Edinburgh. As you delve deeper it becomes clear that "Enlightenment Edinburgh, A Guide" is a book with lasting value: a book that can be referred to time and again, and which will see us directing our own further exploration of a city we already know pretty well. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that it is nicely written and superbly researched. There is a lot here that will be new to even long-term explorers of the city, and it also makes an outstanding introduction for those visiting Edinburgh for the first time. Another reason why this book stands out is because of its exceptionally high production values. The text is supported by excellent illustrations: modern colour photographs and old sepia or monochrome images, all beautifully printed; plus an outstanding set of maps that ensures the city's complex geography is made very clear.
The book takes as its theme the Enlightenment, a remarkable period in the 18th century during which Edinburgh became the intellectual hub of the western world. It terms of physical development this period saw Edinburgh transform itself, spilling out beyond the confines of the medieval city into the New Town. In many ways "Enlightenment Edinburgh, A Guide" can be seen as an area-by-area guide to all that's best in Edinburgh, with descriptions of streets and buildings, plus boxes with background information about key historical personalities, about topics such as the development of the university, and about important historical events. So whether you are a long-term resident of Edinburgh looking for fresh ideas, or making your first visit for a long weekend, give this book a look: in either case it will allow you to make more of the city and it's also a thoroughly interesting read.