Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How Edinburgh Changed the World

My review of James Buchan’s excellent “Capital of the Mind – How Edinburgh Changed the World”, Edinburgh, Birlinn, 2007 (Paperback) is available Here  published by Think Scotland (a right-of-centre Think Tank, to which I am loosely associated).
THIS IS A REMARKABLY good read. Specialist historians and general readers alike will drive much pleasure from James Buchan’s excellent ability to cover a constant stream of interesting facts about the many men and women who parade en masse through its eleven chapters, seeped in their contextual relevance.
Buchan’s account, supported by a scholar’s dream of 73 excellent pages of source notes, might also change the images held by readers of the Scottish Enlightenment, which Buchan asserts changed “the world”. That world, and Edinburgh, certainly changed in the more than two hundred years since its colourful personalities walked, talked, and played their parts, big and small, in the streets of “Auld Reekie” and in its hinterland.” …
...“Buchan’s account of perhaps Edinburgh’s most enduring direct contribution to the world lay in its historic creation and cumulative advances of medical education and treatment. This was where the combination of academic initiative and purposeful education brought most immediate and lasting benefit to the public. Typically, it was no straight path to general health provision. Much of Edinburgh’s medical history is still overshadowed in the scandals of Burke and Hare, and a myriad of other body snatchers, driven, it must be noted, by the need of cadavers for teaching human anatomy to scores of European students. …
...Buchan focuses on the real meaning of Enlightenment, beyond deep philosophy and growing consumerism. Those interested in daily politics should appreciate why creating something new and lastingly worthwhile is knife-edged frustrating. The basic impulse is a thirst for knowledge, which Edinburgh provided in its unique way. Then there is seed finance from private and charitable sources and the manic dedication of a few individuals. Many Enlightenment figures played their roles, including Joseph Black (carbon dioxide), John Lind (scurvy), and William Cullen (medical training)...
... As Buchan notes in his Prologue: “the men of the Enlightenment were the first intellectual celebrities of the modern world, as famous for their mental boldness as for their bizarre habits and spotless moral characters.” His “Capital of the Mind” shows in captivating detail how so much more, they, their compatriots, and their City contributed for the most part of their Enlightened century.”
Follow the link to read it all.  Let me know what you think.


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