"Rediscovered Dundee" by Brian King is a fascinating potpourri of a book whose depth and variety draws you in and leaves you both entertained and informed. The author sets the scene in his introduction when he talks of the way Dundee turned its back on its past from the 1960s onwards. Much of the damage done to the heart of the city during the decades that followed is in the process of being addressed with the opening of the V&A Museum of Design and redevelopment of the waterfront area.
As the author says: "If Dundee can be confident of the future, then it can be sure that there is an interesting past just waiting to be rediscovered. 'Rediscovered Dundee' is an anthology of stories from the past. Many will be unfamiliar, it is hoped, having been uncovered during the research for this book, which returned to original documents and contemporary reports in an effort to uncover some of the city's less well-known people and events. Even in the case of some of the more familiar stories that have been included, it is hoped that at least some information has been added that is new to most readers."
We have read books that are superficially similar in their aims to this one, about other parts of Scotland, where the authors have set out to provide a set of tried-and-tested stories from the past, with the odd novelty thrown in for variety. What shines through from "Rediscovered Dundee" is Brian King's sheer joy in discovering new and different events and stories and setting them out in a readable and engaging way. There was very little we found between the covers of this book that was at all familiar to us and there was a great deal that we found genuinely interesting. There's no obvious means of overall organisation. Instead, the eight chapters each takes its own approach to its own collection of stories. We begin with "Arrival", which takes the railway station area and recounts events and stories associated with it. Later chapters look at music hall days; relics of the past; shows and circuses; modern myths; our American cousins; the sporting life; and ordinary Dundonians.
We challenge anyone to browse this book and not be drawn in by the stories, some of which are told in detail in a way that shows the depth of research underlying its production. We were very struck by the account of one British solider shooting another on the railway station platform in 1941; and the consequences of what happened. Elsewhere we were stopped in our tracks by discovering that "the first scientific dissection of an elephant took place in the town in 1706", then the account of how that came about. The story of the misadventures of the young Dundonian yachtsman trying to sail across the Atlantic in 1895 was also genuinely gripping. But don't be guided by us: there are loads of stories here and everyone will come away with their own favourites.