Stone Voices The Search for Scotland

Neal Ascherson

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Scotland has a new Parliament and it has North Sea oil, but is it yet an independent, self-sustaining democracy? Is it a true nation? In Stone Voices, Neal Ascherson launches what he calls an imaginative invasion of his native land, searching for the relationships, themes, and fantasies that make up "Scotland."

Beginning with a breathtaking portrait of the country's landscape, and of the way humanity has indelibly marked even its rockiest contours, Ascherson takes us on a journey through Scotland's past, interweaving his historical accounts with a rollicking report on a back-country bus expedition he joined during the 1997 referendum campaign that led to Scotland's first modern Parliament. He asked voters then what kind of country they hoped for, what they feared, and what they expected—questions that animate his book as well.

In his search for a nation, he explores many themes: the slow hybrid formation of the Scottish people over centuries of successive immigrations; the way their most renowned intellectuals and writers came to hate the national church; the distinct style of the Scots' contribution to the British Empire; the peculiar nature of their diaspora; the coexistence of their search for an "authentic" Scotland with the myths others create for them; and the Scots' proud sense of true independence. Stone Voices enlightens us about Scotland, about Europe, and about the conditions for freedom that we must all seek today.


Praise for Stone Voices

"He writes with a wonderful sinewy expressiveness, always colloquial but always elegant . . . His idiosyncratic intelligence and shameless erudition give me hope."—Michael Frayn

"[Ascherson] is a writer with the vision to see around and beyond his subject even as he addresses it, and the sensitivity to notice the shadows on it . . . [He] evokes something very much like a national character without assuming that he can define it. Using history, landscape and his own travels and encounters, he conjures up an image that in its contradictions suggests a fragile and sometimes wistful reality."—Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

"This journey through the mind and inclination of the Scots is an absorbing one, beautifully written, as one would expect from the author of Black Sea and The Polish August, full of surprising revelations . . . and with a range of reference which is breathtaking in its scope. Throughout it all, his devotion to Scotland and its people . . . shines through."—Magnus Linklater, The Spectator

"Ascherson is one of the most stylish and erudite journalists around. For almost half a century, he has reported from the world's trouble spots, watching pressure build to the point at which political change becomes inevitable . . . Admirers of his writing might have noticed that the pulse quickens when he dwells on the country in which he was born . . . Stone Voices is a lucky bag of a book into which Ascherson has stuffed everything he knows about Scotland. The luckiest part is that he knows a great deal."—James Campbell, The Sunday Telegraph

"[A] stringent, generously motivated, humane book . . . Ascherson's prose is always engaging, but the personal register, the mix of frustration and aspiration, is most compelling . . . Ascherson's impressive, continuously engaging, always enlightening dialogue with himself and a country he clearly loves is well worth hearing."—Ray Ryan, The Irish Times

"Ascherson has mastered much of the new ground-breaking Scottish historiography and he uses his grasp of the subject to offer fascinating comment on key episodes. Devotees of Ascherson's prose . . . will not be surprised to learn that this book is also written with great style and is simply a very good read . . . As an engaging discussion of the essence of Scottish identities, past and present, it can be read with very great profit by anyone seeking to understand this complex and remarkable little nation."—T. M. Devine, The Glasgow Herald

"The ageless Neal Ascherson is one of Scotland's great national assets . . . Stone Voices defies categorisation. It is part autobiography, part history, part psychological investigation of the Scottish character . . . A fascinating and though-provoking book, laced with genuine wit and elegantly written."—Iain MacWhirter, The Glasgow Sunday Herald

"A British journalist and historian examines Scotland's movements for home rule and independence—not necessarily conjoined—and illuminates their tangled roots . . . [A] greatly accessible compendium of scholarly passion."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Neal Ascherson

  • Neal Ascherson, a leading scholar-journalist, writes for The Independent in London and The New York Review of Books. His books include Black Sea, The Polish August, and The King Incorporated. He lives in London.