The best books to challenge your assumptions about Scotland

Why am I passionate about this?

My family maintained an emigrant’s romantic view of Scotland: tartan, ceilidhs, bagpipes, and shortbread in tartan tins. In 1978 I moved to Scotland after a political science degree to study bagpipes with one of the great masters of the time, and I was exposed to a very different Scotland. Living in Ferguslie Park, Paisley during Margaret Thatcher’s era, I was in the town with the worst social statistics in Europe, seeing poverty, crime, and trauma on the streets every day, and these books speak to that reality. They also describe the warmth and beauty of the people I met there, many of whom remain fast friends to this day.


I wrote...

I Piped, That She Might Dance

By Iain MacDonald,

Book cover of I Piped, That She Might Dance

What is my book about?

I Piped, That She Might Dance, with a foreword by Hugh Cheape, is a historical novel based on the life of Angus MacKay (1813-1859), first Piper to the Sovereign, appointed by Queen Victoria. Mackay, who is one of the most significant figures in the history of Scottish music, died after a long battle with physical and mental illness, though he left behind collections of pipe music still played today. This account of his life traces his long journey, from humble origins on the isle of Raasay to the height of fame in Her Majesty’s service and beyond. His story is one that has long deserved to be told.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of And the Land Lay Still

Iain MacDonald Why did I love this book?

Having lived in Scotland in the late 1970s, I felt as though I was reading about my own experiences at times, and I was certain I could smell the coal burning. This book helped make sense of so much of Scottish life and politics, while it was also a moving personal story. It’s a sweeping history of life and politics in 20th century Scotland that gives context to everything in the news today.

By James Robertson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And the Land Lay Still as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

And the Land Lay Still is the sweeping Scottish epic by James Robertson

And the Land Lay Still is nothing less than the story of a nation. James Robertson's breathtaking novel is a portrait of modern Scotland as seen through the eyes of natives and immigrants, journalists and politicians, drop-outs and spooks, all trying to make their way through a country in the throes of great and rapid change. It is a moving, sweeping story of family, friendship, struggle and hope - epic in every sense.

The winner of the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award 2010, And…


Book cover of Lanark: A Life in Four Books

Iain MacDonald Why did I love this book?

This book was published in 1981, one of the years I was living in Scotland, and spending much of my time in Glasgow, although it was decades later I learned about the book. Lanark has been called “the greatest novel of the century,” “a seminal work of Scottish literature,” and “an extraordinary masterpiece.” It’s a wildly creative, dystopian vision of Scottish society that nevertheless turns a hopeful eye to the future.

By Alasdair Gray,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Lanark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Probably the greatest novel of the century' Observer
'Remarkable' William Boyd

Lanark, a modern vision of hell, is set in the disintegrating cities of Unthank and Glasgow, and tells the interwoven stories of Lanark and Duncan Thaw. A work of extraordinary imagination and wide range, its playful narrative techniques convey a profound message, both personal and political, about humankind's inability to love, and yet our compulsion to go on trying.

First published in 1981, Lanark immediately established Gray as one of Britain's leading writers.


Book cover of Scabby Queen

Iain MacDonald Why did I love this book?

The novel is set in modern Scotland and the wider UK, and the author paints a “state-of-the-nation” portrait of Scotland and its people. Sometimes disturbing and blunt, always with a sly joke and a smirk, this is an unflinching story about a woman struggling to find her place in a society that doesn’t fully get her. We see her struggle through an amazing life, never fully realizing how much she is loved.

By Kirstin Innes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Scabby Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Gripping and moving. A literary triumph' Nicola Sturgeon

'A humane and searching story' Ian Rankin

'Kirstin Innes is aiming high, writing for readers in the early days of a better nation' A.L. Kennedy

A NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR * A SCOTSMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

Three days before her fifty-first birthday Clio Campbell - one-hit wonder, political activist, lifelong love and one-night-stand - kills herself in her friend Ruth's spare bedroom. And, as practical as she is, Ruth doesn't know what to do.

As the news spreads around Clio's collaborators and comrades, lovers and enemies, the story of…


Book cover of The Young Team

Iain MacDonald Why did I love this book?

I’ve passed by characters like these in the street and was once chased two miles down Paisley Road West at two o’clock in the morning by a gang of very inebriated youths, so reading Armstrong’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the North Lanarkshire gang culture was challenging and engaging. It was challenging because it is written in the “patter” or dialect of central Scotland, and I found m’sel’ readin’ wi an accent in ma heid. Pure mental.

By Graeme Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Young Team as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Times top ten bestseller
Scots Book of the Year 2021
Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award & Betty Trask Award 2021

'Trainspotting for a new generation' - Independent
'An instant Scottish classic' - The Skinny

2005. Glasgow is named Europe's Murder Capital, driven by a violent territorial gang and knife culture. In the housing schemes of adjacent Lanarkshire, Scotland's former industrial heartland, wee boys become postcode warriors.

2004. Azzy Williams joins the Young Team [YTP]. A brutal gang conflict with their deadly rivals, the Young Toi [YTB] begins.

2012. Azzy dreams of another life. He faces his toughest fight…


Book cover of Shuggie Bain

Iain MacDonald Why did I love this book?

This book won the 2020 Booker Prize, this heart-wrenching and unforgettable story describes the life of a family living in public housing in Glasgow in the 1980s. I felt as though I’d met some of these people. I certainly knew people like them, and recognised the landscape in which they lived. Despite the very real trauma experienced by the characters throughout, this novel shows the endurance and hope sparked by friendship and love.

By Douglas Stuart,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Shuggie Bain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD



A stunning debut novel by a masterful writer telling the heartwrenching story of a young boy and his alcoholic mother, whose love is only matched by her pride.



Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.



Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she…


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Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

Book cover of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

Jim Brown Author Of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire professional life quietly patrolling the frontiers of understanding human consciousness. I was an early adopter in the burgeoning field of biofeedback, then neurofeedback and neuroscience, plus theory and practices of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, plus steeping myself in systems theory as a context for all these other fields of focus. I hold a MS in psychology from San Francisco State University and a PhD from Saybrook Institute. I live in Mount Shasta CA with Molly, my life partner for over 60 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

Jim's book list on brain, mind, and consciousness

What is my book about?

In this thoroughly researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development.

He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind.

Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through lifelong brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.

Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

In this thoroughly-researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development. He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to truly engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through life-long brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Scotland, Glasgow, and teenagers?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Scotland, Glasgow, and teenagers.

Scotland Explore 323 books about Scotland
Glasgow Explore 29 books about Glasgow
Teenagers Explore 125 books about teenagers