What comes to mind when you think of history’s greatest civilizations?
Rome? Greece? Egypt?
Few would throw Scotland into that category, but in How the Scots Invented the Modern World Arthur Herman makes his case.
To flaunt Scotland’s stuff he takes the reader on a journey over the last few centuries to highlight this nation’s finest moments. To do so he focuses on the lives of prominent individuals such as James Watt, Adam Smith, and David Hume and recounts their lives in lucid detail.
Herman demonstrates that the Scots contributed to many fundamental aspects of Western Civilization. Capitalism, Empiricism, as well as certain tenets of democracy and justice owe their success to Scottish ideals.
“David Hume would put it even more vividly: all the other passions, including self-interest itself, have relatively minor effect on our lives, compared with the desire for property. ‘This avidity alone of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends is insatiable, perpetual, universal, and directly destructive of society .’
The book is broken up into two major sections: Epiphany and Diaspora. The former section focuses on the genesis and development of the Scottish Enlightenment and it’s lasting impact on the Western world. The latter section highlights the influence Scots had on Western nations through immigrating to their countries.
Is Scotland Really a Heavyweight Contender?
Herman really had his work cut out for him with this book. To prove that this small nation was the most integral piece to Western civilization is a daunting task.
The truth is that everyone wants their country, race, or ideology to be the best. For example, I recently read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr. If both of these authors claim that their country or religion is the best someone has to be wrong.
The reality is that there will never objectively be a most successful nation. Ideally, each nation, people and culture have, or will, all made their contributions to the world.
Scotland is so… Boring!
I’ve always viewed Scotland as a nation that breeds entertaining fictional characters such as Groundskeeper Willy, Fat Bastard, and James bond; not to mention that they drink scotch and play golf.
Yet, this book is not entertaining whatsoever. In fact, when not highlighting the lives of famous Scots, Herman drags the reader over the pages with uneventful anecdotes. I found myself putting the book down often and letting it sit for weeks at a time.
No, Scotland Did Not “Invent the Modern World”
While Herman makes a good case, he failed to convince me of how awesome Scotland is. I will, however, give Scotland a lot more credit after reading this book.
Despite the recent failed referendum for Scottish independence, I think Scotland will garner more attention over the next few years. If not for the contributions they may make in the future, then for the tremendous influence they’ve had on Western civilization.
“The point of this book is that being Scottish is more than just a matter of nationality or place of origin or clan or even culture. It is also a state of mind, a way of viewing the world and our place in it.”
This book does enjoy a bit of popularity, and is recommended by the brilliant Charlie Munger. Despite its praise, this book really only has value if you’re looking for a narrative of Scotland.
Click Here to buy How the Scots Invented the Modern World from Amazon.
Check out this review from the Guardian for more information on this book.