The best books which prove that the world is Scottish…and the Universe too

Who am I?

Very little Scottish history or culture was taught in school when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. When I began to read books on the subject from the local library and then studied Scottish literature at Edinburgh University, I realised what my brother and sister Scots had missed out on, and was determined to rectify that by writing accessible books which would both inform and entertain as well as enrich their lives and change the way they perceived their culture. I love their reaction to my work and the influence my books have had. 


I wrote...

The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora

By Billy Kay,

Book cover of The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora

What is my book about?

A celebration of the huge contribution the Scots have made in every far-flung corner of the world and the legacy they have created in areas that will surprise and delight—from freemasonry to football and from intellectual enlightenment to the appreciation of fine wine! I made documentaries on the Scottish diaspora over several decades for the BBC, so this is the fruit of that labour combined with a personal account of my own world travels where just being a Scot helped me tremendously in places as far apart as Hawaii, Malawi, Thailand, Poland, the United States, and Canada.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Scotland: The Global History: 1603 to the Present

By Murray Pittock,

Book cover of Scotland: The Global History: 1603 to the Present

Why this book?

In terms of Scottish political and cultural history, this is a hugely important book that will astonish and delight everyone engaged in the matter of Scotland. What impresses is the range and scope of Murray Pittock’s global vision for Scotland, but what engages is the minute human detail of the people in the diaspora that he reveals to us, positive and negative. This is the polar opposite of dry history, it is a magisterial work that Scots will actively return to again and again, as we redefine our role in Europe and the world in the 21st Century. I have interviewed Murray for several BBC programmes and he has always come across as a brilliant communicator, who like me, is passionate about Scotland.


The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World

By Arthur Herman,

Book cover of The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World

Why this book?

The British edition of this provocative book has the modest title The Scottish Enlightenment with the subheading The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World. I have the original in-your-face American edition though, which rejoices in a title that no Scot would have the brass neck to come up with: How the Scots Invented the Modern World with the subheading The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. It was given to me by a Philipino-Californian surfing lawyer, Jesse Quinsaat, who studied with me at Edinburgh University in the early 1970s and continues his interest in Scottish culture when surf’s not up or the cases are not too demanding! He had bought the book in San Diego, loved it, and passed it on to me during a visit to Edinburgh.


The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

By Mark Kurlansky,

Book cover of The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

Why this book?

Coming from a wee country with a big global footprint, discovering this groundbreaking book gave me the idea of doing something similar for Scotland. Readable, engaging, and full of surprises, it is a great counterweight to the view that everything important in the world was produced by people from the great nation states.


The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and Her Universities in the Nineteenth Century

By George Davie,

Book cover of The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and Her Universities in the Nineteenth Century

Why this book?

One of the most important works on Scottish intellectual history and not as well known by the reading public as it should be. It was seminal in my own appreciation of Scottish culture and of the necessity to fight to continue the traditions described in the book—the broad-based education, the social egalitarianism, and recogniton of the importance of the vernacular Scots contribution to the unique culture we have. This democratic intellectualism went on to influence universities in America such as Princeton and colleges across Africa where Scots Presbyterian missionaries held sway.


Scottish Communities Abroad In The Early Modern Period

By Alexia Grosjean (editor), Steve Murdoch (editor),

Book cover of Scottish Communities Abroad In The Early Modern Period

Why this book?

This is just one of several books by these brilliant academics who have done so much to make people aware of the huge Scottish presence in Europe and the incredible influence they had on their host nations. I use many stories gleaned from Steve in my own book. 

Steve points out that while many Scots served in the Swedish army in the 17th century as professional soldiers, they were not merely content to be part of the military élite. Their penetration into the exclusive field of diplomacy is revealed by the negotiations between Sweden and Denmark-Norway to end the Kalmar War in 1613. Representing the Danish side was Robert Anstruther, on the Swedish side was James Spens. No only were they both Scots, they were half-brithers from the East Neuk of Fife! They did quite literally ken each ither’s faither!


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Scotland, modernity, and international relations?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Scotland, modernity, and international relations.

Scotland Explore 179 books about Scotland
Modernity Explore 26 books about modernity
International Relations Explore 139 books about international relations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Witch-Hunting in Scotland, The Living Mountain, and The Steel Bonnets if you like this list.