Book reviews: The Anatomy Murders | Peatbogs, Plague & Potatoes

THE Anatomy Murders by Lisa Rosner (Penn, £19.50)

EDINBURGH'S status as City of Literature was well merited; more specifically, though, Scotland's capital has been the city of a certain sort of literary sensibility: civilised yet irredeemably gothic; austerely extravagant and deeply dualistic. If Deacon Brodie was born there, it was the spiritual birthplace to Doctor Jekyll and to Mr Hyde: fact and fiction alike have helped shape an insistently modern yet unsettlingly atavistic urban vision. No episode has contributed more than the murder campaign of Burke and Hare. Just as the sleek elegance of the New Town was shown up by the dark and crime-ridden slums of the Old, so Edinburgh's Enlightenment was ironically counterpointed by the brutal cynicism of these killings. Cutting-edge medical science was already cutting up the bodies of the poor: Burke, Hare and Knox just cut out the wait for death. In this exciting, thought-provoking study, Rosner rescues their story from the chamber of horrors and replaces it at the very heart of Edinburgh's intellectual and imaginative history.

Peatbogs, Plague & Potatoes

by Emma Wood

(Luath, 9.99)

FOR much of the modern era, we were scarcely aware of our environment – the passive backcloth to our human-historical drama. Today, of course, we're thoroughly traumatised by fears for our global future, but we've still been slow to see how far we're haunted by our planet's past. Yet the impact of climatic and environmental factors could hardly have been more far-reaching, as Emma Wood makes clear in this timely and important book. If the Medieval Warm Period smoothed Scotland's path to feudalism, the Little Ice Age gave the country's agrarian economy a severe chill, whose consequences we're still feeling to this day. New times mean new ways of seeing history: Wood introduces a wide range of phenomena which seemingly have very little to do with Scotland, from the Iapetus Ocean of the Neoproterozoic to the "Irish" Famine of the 1840s. All this and rats and runrig too – not to mention rowan trees and Rotherham swing-ploughs: a revelatory reconception of the Scottish story.

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