"A Handbook of Scotland's History" by Michael Kerrigan is a perfect primer for anyone who wants to understand the reasons why the country we see around us today became what it is. There are any number of books already published which set out within a single volume the history of Scotland. In what is a very crowded marketplace, why should you consider buying this one? We'd highlight three factors: this book seems to us to be approachable, accessible, and accurate.
In terms of approachability this is not a book that is going to break your coffee table. At over 370 pages it is long enough to do justice to its subject, but it's certainly not a huge and off-putting tome. Once you open the cover you find the contents are nicely presented, with each chapter divided into a series of pithily and helpfully-entitled chunks. Throw in some illustrations and a number of free-standing sections about subjects of interest and you end up with a book that is ideal for any audience, from teenager to adult. By "accessible" we mean the author's highly readable style. Michael Kerrigan combines a simple and straightforward use of language with enough of his character to bring the narrative to life: but not so much it ever overwhelms. And by being accurate, we simply mean that nothing we found between the covers leaps out and causes the reader, this reader at least, to say "hang on" and scurry off to check an alternative source.
The author's account starts in geological history before moving through to pre-history and then the formation of Scotland. There's much in the early story of Scotland that is open to interpretation, but we found Michael Kerrigan's approach to be a common sense one that cuts through areas of possible confusion and leaves the reader with a clear idea of the most likely sequence of interactions and events. Scotland's story becomes increasingly well documented as it moves through the last thousand years, and here the author's task becomes one of selection and presentation. Again, we felt that the right approach had been taken. The book comes right up to date with sections on the 2014 independence referendum and the 2015 Westminster general election, on gay Scotland, and on factors that might help shape Scotland's future history. As we said at the beginning of this review: a perfect primer on the history of Scotland.