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Roddy Lumsden

Charles Maclean

Island on the Edge of the World

Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St Kilda by Charles Maclean tells of a remote group of islands of the coast of Scotland, and of the people who lived there.

St Kilda was peopled in prehistoric times, but its known history starts when it came into the ownership of the MacLeod family of Harris in the 14thcentury. The owners would occasionally send a steward to the island, but it was a difficult and dangerous journey, so mostly the islanders were left to fend for themselves. Thus there arose a unique culture there. The islands were poorly suited for inhabitants, and so the main food was the seabirds which went there in great numbers. Skill in climbing the dangerous crags in order to catch the birds was vital. It was a hard life, but it seems that with the coming of missionaries in the 18th century it became even harder - there were so many restrictions imposed by religion. As time went on the contrast between island life and life elsewhere became too great, and in 1930 the islanders moved off the island to join the rest of society.

Maclean spends a chapter bemoaning the loss of such a culture, but it is hard to see how things could have been otherwise - the chapter is more of a rant than a considered argument. What I found interesting about the book was that it wasn't the story of sudden contact with the rest of the world, rather it was limited contact over a very long time. Hence it is possible to see what effect this contact is having. Whether you are interested in this aspect of the book, or just want to hear about life on a remote island, I would say that the book is well worth reading.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews