Poet's biography of Burns wins Saltire award
FIVE years ago, when poet and St Andrews academic Robert Crawford told a friend he was thinking of writing a biography about Robert Burns, back came the reply: "That'll be the world's least necessary book."
Yesterday, however, his biography, The Bard, beat all others to be named this year's 10,000 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year at a ceremony in the National Library of Scotland.
On the last day of the Year of Homecoming – itself based on celebrating the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth – the judges said that Professor Crawford's biography was in a different league to most other accounts of the Bard's life.
Professor Ian Campbell, one of the judges, said; "Unlike many other Burns' books, this is written by someone who is not only a distinguished critic, but also a practising poet of real talent.
"This is a book that takes poetry and looks at it with a poet's eye and a poet's ear. Burns emerges from it fresh – like a new poet."
The Bard – the first biography Prof Crawford has written – set out to strip away unsubstantiated lore and sentimental myths from the poet's reputation, using Burns' own words where possible and those of his contemporaries where not.
Meanwhile, the First Book of the Year category was won by Eleanor Thom's novel The Tin-Kin, which is based on her mother's Traveller family in the North-east of Scotland.
Alexander Broadie's History of Scottish Philosophy won the History Book of the Year category and the Research Book of the Year award went to the Historical Thesaurus of the English Dictionary, a mammoth project that began at Glasgow University in 1965 and which has involved contributions from more than 200 people.
Culture minister Michael Russell presented a Homecoming Award, specially introduced this year, to the retired Kansas academic Donald Worster for A Passion for Nature, his biography of Dunbar-born environmentalist John Muir.
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