"Crucible of Conflict: Three Centuries of Border War" by John Sadler is a fascinating book and, highly unusually for a book about a historical subject, it is also a very personal one. It's no surprise to find his Amazon biography begins with: "John Sadler is a successful author, lecturer, heritage consultant/historical interpreter, storyteller and battlefield tour guide." There are times when you get the sense that the author is standing beside you and talking to you, leading you through the events and places he is discussing. It helps, of course, that he is a native of the area he is writing about and his passion for his subject is rarely far beneath the surface of the words on the page. The result is a book that should be considered essential reading for anyone wanting a better understanding of an area of Scotland that is all-too-often overlooked, both in terms of its history and as a place to visit.
You get a sensed of the content and style from the blurb on the rear cover of the book: " The borderers - people forged and hardened by endemic warfare over generations, whether by raids and skirmishes or set piece battles - are marked even today as a distinct group. For three savage centuries England and Scotland, both dynamic races, slogged it out upon this arena of nations. Scott might have reinvented the border as a sweep of chivalric romance, but the reality was very different. John Sadler knows this ground and its people; he is one of them. For half a century he has traversed the borderland, and has taught, enacted and written about them. In this book he offers a uniquely personal but highly informed view. He neither praises nor condemns them, but seeks to understand and, perverse as it may seem, admires them. History leaves its imprint and like the proverbial stone cast into still waters, it sends out ripples through time that never quite abate. The feuds were pursued with increasing savagery and even when not in outright conflict, the names on both sides continued their 'feids' or vendettas in crazy bloodletting for decades, with cycles of escalating violence creating a dizzying maze of interlocking enmities that was beyond all reason. The late, great George Macdonald Fraser once remarked that the borderers were free in a way we can never imagine. And they were. Here is a book that weighs the evidence from a plethora of sources to provide a compelling history of this border conflict. In the modern political scene, with the issue of a second referendum pending, the theme of a cultural identity, forged in the fury of those Border wars, forms a pivotal theme in the debate."
After a heartfelt introduction by the author, the rest of the book takes a generally chronological approach to its subject. The role and influence of the Romans on the frontier is covered, before we move on to the Wars of Independence, Edward I and Robert the Bruce. We then move steadily forwards through the centuries of conflict that followed. The book is well written and there's an excellent collection of images in the centre of the book. This is a subject that demands good maps, and they are provided, in both black and white and - to illustrate some of the may battles - colour.
History books come in all shapes and sizes and can be written in many different styles. We'd wholeheartedly recommend "Crucible of Conflict: Three Centuries of Border War" as an accessible, engaging and at times exciting account of an important part of Scottish (and English) history.