So after saying that compilation lists of best-loved books are a bit of a waste of time (and going on to talk about it at length) I now feel like listing some of my own. We were discussing at work what the list would look like if people voted genuinely for only books they really loved and not for the ones they thought they should (although some obviously did – Jeffrey Archer is in there for smeg’s sake!). So over the next little while I’m going to pick some of the books I’ve loved over the years and won’t be restricting myself to fiction.
Robert the Bruce by Charlotte Bingham. There are a hell of a lot about Scotland’s greatest warrior-king but Bingham manages to combine an informative historical biography of the Bruce and his turbulent times with genuine readability. It could almost be a historical epic novel, beginning with scheming, almost Machiavellian nobles prepared to sell their own grandmothers to advance themselves. Slowly in the shadow of Wallace Robert the Bruce goes from a selfish man obsessed with winning the crown to being a murderer, then a king who is an outlaw, hunted across the land, struggling against the odds and finally the heroic knight and symbol of Scottish freedom, engaged in knightly single combat and in epic-scale battle that defines the future of nations – a classical heroic journey.
Absorbing, thrilling and ultimately inspiring as it closes on this legendary life with the Declaration of Arbroath -a document which began as propaganda to plead the Scottish case to the Pope. Since that time in 1320 this document (still on display today) has become as legendary as the Bruce himself with a simple cry for freedom and liberty that still inspires today. Centuries later it would influence another remarkable document that was ahead of its time – the American Declaration of Independence. It speaks of the importance of the ‘community and the realm’ and makes clear that the nation is more important than any one person, even the king – a revolutionary piece of thinking for the medieval period and one I think is born of our Celtic roots. The Declaration of Arbroath is also available on it’s own in a lovingly translated edition which has English, Gaelic and BroadScots along with the original Latin.
“We fight not for honour, riches or glory, but only for that freedom which no man surrenders save with his life… For as long as a hundred of us are left alive we will in no way yield to tyranny.”
More as they come to mind…