The library: Best Scottish books for 2020 - Scotland Magazine

The library: Best Scottish books for 2020

Make some space on your bookshelf. Here are our top reads for 2020, from classic works of Scottish literature to useful travel guides and the latest historic tomes

We may not be able to travel, but we can still dream. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite books of 2020 so far – from classic works of Scottish literature to useful travel guides – to keep you busy during lockdown and beyond.


Battles of the Jacobite Rebellions: Killiecrankie to Culloden by Jonathan Oates

This comprehensive account of over 50 years of military campaigns that formed the Jacobite Risings (or rebellions) is a useful resource for anyone who wants to familiarise themselves with this unsettled period of Scottish history in detail. Using eyewitness testimony, alongside archaeological evidence and contemporary resources, Oates creates
a timeline of the Jacobite campaigns in which supporters of the Stuart line rose up against successive British armies in a bid to reclaim the throne. From the 1689 rising, right up to the ultimate defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, this book offers the reader a wider perspective of the campaign.

Pen & Sword Books, £25 (hardback)

Scotland Remembered: A History of Scotland Through its Monuments and Memorials, Michael Meighan

What do Scotland’s many monuments and memorials tell us about Scotland’s past? Too often as we drive through its glens or walk its cities, we ignore the clues around us to the triumphs and tragedies that sculpted Scotland into the country it is today. In this book, Meighan takes the reader on a journey through our built landscape, revealing stories often poignant and seldom forgettable. From major landmarks such as the Wallace Memorial in Stirling to the lesser-known statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, he tells of the nation’s heroes and villains, of its disasters, both natural and otherwise, and of the country’s contributions in fields such as science and exploration.

Amberley, £14.99

Scotland Her Story: The Nation’s History by the Women Who Lived it, edited by Rosemary Goring

So often much of what we know about history is from accounts by men, but here Goring exclusively bestows the voice-over upon women. Drawing on court and kirk records, exchequer rolls and treasurer accounts, diaries and memoirs, chapbooks and newspapers, government reports and eye-witness statements, we hear from
the medieval Queen Margaret and Mary, Queen of Scots, right through to the current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Out in paperback in February 2020, just ahead of International Women’s Day, it offers a unique take on Scottish history by the people whose voices were so rarely heard.

Birlinn Books, £12.99


Edinburgh, Glasgow & the Isle of Skye, Sally Coffey

This travel guidebook by our very own editor focuses on three of the most popular destinations in Scotland and the best ways to travel between them. With detailed chapters on Scotland’s enigmatic and well-groomed capital to the bubbling arts and food scene in Glasgow through to the natural wonderland of Skye, this guide is suited to both independent travellers and those looking for a well curated tour outlined by someone who has been there and done it. Whether you want to trek to cleared Highland villages, visit ancient sites steeped in history or experience the warm welcome of Scotland’s many folk music pubs, this book will see you well.

Moon Travel, £14.99

Scotland: Beyond the Bagpipes, Helen Ochyra

This travel memoir by experienced travel journalist Ochyra sees her go on a journey of discovery, quite literally, following the sudden death of her mother. At times moving, and at times incredibly funny, as Ochyra crosses over the Scottish border from England on a three-month odyssey, travelling from the Border Abbeys to the Outer Hebrides, her aim is to discover the real Scotland behind the clichés that skew our understanding of this special country.Sure, she visits famous sites, drinks whisky and attends a cèilidh, but she also manages to bring to the page many of the nuances of Scottish life that set it apart from the rest of the world and which are just as appealing as its major attractions.

Book Guild Publishing Ltd, £9.99


An Orkney Tapestry, George Mackay Brown

First published in 1969, and due to be reprinted in June 2020, Mackay’s account of life both before and during his time on this remote archipelago is unsurpassed. Mackay Brown masterfully weaves together folklore with history, alongside a decent smattering of prose, as expected of a poet of his status. In the book, which is like a love letter to his native Orkney, Mackay Brown conjures up a vibrant sense of place in a way few other writers can. Not a book to rush or try to complete in one sitting. Rather, you should try to savour each and every word, description and illustration and let Orkney cast its spell on you as it quite clearly did with Mackay Brown before you.

Birlinn Books, £8.99

Tracing your Scottish ancestry through church and state Records: A Guide for Family Historians, Chris Paton

Our resident genealogist Chris Paton has pulled together all his research into finding records (see page 47) into one neat place. Paton examines the most common records used to trace family history in Scotland, from the ‘vital’ records (birth, marriage and death certificates), to the decennial censuses, tax records, registers of land ownership and inheritance and records of law and order. You may have found navigating the concepts and language associated with Scottish records complex and confusing but so have many before you. This is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to demystify their ancestry once and for all.

Pen & Sword Books, £14.99


Midwinter, John Buchan

First published in 1923 and now in reprint, this book by celebrated Scottish writer Buchan is set during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Part historic fiction, part thriller, the story follows lead character Alistair Maclean, a loyal supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he embarks on a mission to England to garner support for the Jacobite cause, but ends up on the trail of a turncoat he suspects of passing information from the Jacobite side to the government.
There are a few surprise appearances, including Samuel Johnson, the English writer and lexicographer who famously travelled through Scotland to the Western Isles later on in the 18th century, and the mysterious title character, Midwinter.

Birlinn Books, £8.99



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