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No single group of inhabitants of the British Isles inflicted more serious setbacks on the English conquest of their lands than theScottish Highlanders. English defeats like Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn and Prestonpans must permanently coexist withvictories like Falkirk, Flodden and Culloden in British history books. But if the Scots made formidable foes, the English foundthem to be good men to have on their side in the centuries following the final fall of the old Scottish Highland clans at Cullodenon April 16, 1746. Waterloo, the Alma, Ypres, El Alamein and Port Stanley are only a few of the battles in which Highlandersmade a vital contribution toward victory.

Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans (Viking Studio Books, New York, 1995, $40 hardbound) is the companionvolume to the Public Broadcasting Service series of the same name that commemorated the 250th anniversary of “TheForty-Five,” the Jacobite uprising of Prince Charles Edward Stuart–also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie–whose failure toseize the British crown effectively ended traditional Scottish Highland culture and life. Author Sir Fitzroy MacLean–who diedJune 15, 1996, at age 85–was himself an old Highland warrior. In addition to being a noted commentator on Highland history,he was a commando officer in North Africa and later the head of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s military mission toMarshal Tito and his Yugoslav partisans during World War II.

Like the PBS series, this book is a stunning achievement of detail and imagery. It is a tour de force of elegant prose and lavishillustrations that presents a well-balanced account of nearly 2,000 years of tumult, majesty and tragedy of the mostromanticized warrior people in history. As a scion of one of the more noteworthy clans, Sir Fitzroy is the perfect guide forunderstanding the fiery people and incomparable landscape of the Scottish Highlands.

In Gaelic, the word clan means “the children,” and MacLean examines and describes a culture where dedication to the clanand chief were paramount to the interests of the individual or the state. He recounts the bloodstained history and mythology ofcourage and loyalty, as well as barbarism and treachery, that set clan against clan in a seemingly unceasing cycle of violenceand conflict. Only resistance to central authority–above all, English kings and armies–could unite the clans and direct theirfierce passions at a hated foe. Unfortunately, the same elements that so long afforded the clans protection against absorptioninto the modern Scottish nation-state and, later, Britain’s international empire were eventually suborned and overwhelmed bythe forces of “progress.” The most stunning irony is that after having striven for so long to destroy the Highland clans and wayof life, the English and their Lowland Scottish allies began to romanticize that warrior culture.

MacLean’s glossary of clan tartans and brief histories is both compelling and enlightening. The cover price of his last greatwork should not deter prospective purchasers, because the book is worth every penny. Highlanders is a wondrous resource for the military historian in general, and certainly a must for anyone whose “blood is strong” and whose “heart is Highland.” William John Shepherd