Annual Booklist 2018-2019 : Dr Arran Johnston

Arran Johnston is Director of the Scottish Battlefields Trust and author of, amongst other works, Blood Stain'd Fields: The Battles of East Lothian and On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be!: The Battle of Prestonpans 1745.

Choosing a small sample of favourites from my pretty densely-packed shelves is no easy choice, so I have chosen to list two works which I possess and read simply for the pleasure they give me, one which I believe to be essential reading, and two recent works which I believe fill important gaps. All should be of value to be general and informed readers.

I have chosen Mark Adkin’s The Waterloo Companion largely because it is a thing of beauty, and when I received it as a school prize over fifteen years ago I treated the heavy hard-backed volume with a sort of reverence. I have numerous other books on Waterloo but this remains my favourite as it helped inspire my fascination with how formations on the map relate to movements on the landscape, and when I was finally able to visit the field my memories of this book were of great value.

I must also give a nod to Robert Harvey’s The War of Wars, because out of all the modern books on my shelves this is by far the tattiest volume. That is testament to the fact that it has travelled with me on so many trips and been re-read so many times. Although later re-readings as I’ve learned more about the subject have shown that there are flaws in detail and weighting, as a narrative history this book is a highly rewarding read and a fitting demonstration of the epic nature of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars; an excellent introduction for an interested reader.

In my home territory of the Jacobite Risings, no recent book has been so influential as Christopher Duffy’s mighty The ’45, which was recently re-visited by the author resulting in Fight for a Throne: the Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered. The scope and depth of this study were such that, despite the many books on the subject which have since been released, there are still aspects of the Rising which are treated best or even exclusively in Duffy’s masterwork. I doubt there is a single serious student of the ’45 who does not have this on their shelf, and yet it remains equally accessible and engaging for the general reader as well.

All of the above are books which I have long enjoyed, so the next two recommendations are more recent appearances which would no doubt make for someone a satisfying Christmas morning. Stephen Ede-Borrett’s The Army of James II combines both conciseness and detail to create a very worthy solution to the missing link in the narrative of British army’s evolution out of the legacy of the mid-17th century. Likewise, Jonathan Oates’ The Battle of Killiecrankie: the first Jacobite campaign 1689-91 brings that author’s customary attention to archival detail to the largely neglected Jacobite war which followed James II & VII’s overthrow. The government forces are treated with greater care in this study than I have seen elsewhere, and the effect is a more coherent and balanced understanding of this significant conflict.

When considering a title on the British Army which I wish existed but does not, or at least does not appear to exist, I would be keen to see a serious study presented of the British army’s interactions with the domestic population in Scotland before, during, and after the later Jacobite Risings. It might not be a fly-off-the-shelf success, but such a book would be of great interest in challenging a number of popular preconceptions. Also, as it always interesting to read both sides of a conflict, I should like to see a full version of the Jacobite exile James Johnstone’s narrative of his service with the French army in Canada.