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An Edinburgh Reading List

Many of the books listed below are in print and in paperback ­ those that are out of print (o/p) should be easy to track down in secondhand bookshops. Publishers follow each title; first the UK publisher, then the US. Only one publisher is listed if the UK and US publishers are the same. Where books are published in only one of these countries, UK or US comes after the publisher's name.



One City edited by Alexander McCall Smith and published in by POLYGON presents three writers' radically different takes on Edinburgh life - a social mix that ranges from Welsh's Leith junkies, Ian Rankin's to McCall Smith's New Town haute bourgeoisie.


Iain Banks, Complicity (Abacus; Bantam). Typically lurid tale by Scotland's best contemporary author, dealing with a journalist on The Caledonian (a barely disguised Scotsman) himself caught up in paranoia and misdeeds.


Pat Barker, Regeneration (Penguin; Nal-Dutton). First part of the prizewinning trilogy based on the real-life meeting of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Edinburgh's Craiglockhart Hospital, where the two try to come to terms with the horrors they have witnessed in the trenches.


Christopher Brookmyre, Quite Ugly One Morning (Abacus, UK). Cynical investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane, sorts out skullduggery in an Edinburgh NHS trust hospital in a hard-boiled post-Irvine Welsh novel.


James Hogg, Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Penguin). Scary tale, first published in 1824, of the inner torments of the human psyche; an inspiration for much later Scottish fiction.


Paul Johnston, Body Politic (New English Library, UK). Blues fanatic private investigator Quentin Dalrymple handles a series of grisly murders in the brave new world of 2020 AD when Edinburgh, the only stable city in the British Isles, exists largely to serve a massive tourist industry.


Eric Linklater, Magnus Merriman (Canongate). Vivid descriptions of Edinburgh landmarks in this humorous satire of the Scottish literary and political world of the 1930s.


Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (Coronet o/p; St Martin's Press), Hide and Seek (Coronet o/p; Simon & Schuster). Jazz-loving copper John Rebus trawls through Edinburgh lowlife.


Sir Walter Scott, The Waverley Novels (Penguin). The books that did much to create the romanticized version of Scottish life and history.


Robert Louis Stevenson, The Scottish Stories and Essays (Edinburgh University Press); Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (Penguin). The former Includes "The Misadventures of John Nicholson", an entertaining account of an innocent's escapades, and the grisly "The Body Snatchers". Though nominally set in London, Stevenson's classic, and still resonant, horror story of Jekyll and Hyde is generally considered to be based on the author's misspent youth in the bowels of Edinburgh's Old Town.


Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting (Minerva; Heinemann). No-holds-barred account of Nineties Edinburgh lowlife; sordid and guttural. Marabou Stork Nightmares (Vintage; Norton) is similarly gross but has more of a plot. Ecstasy (Vintage; Norton), a collection of three novellas published in 1996 at the height of Trainspotting fever, covered the same ground and suggested either a rushed job or that Welsh was beginning to run out of ideas.



Robert Chambers, Traditions of Edinburgh 1824 (Chambers). An extraordinary collection of lively tales, many of which would today count as urban myths, about the Old Town streets and closes.


David Daiches, Two Worlds (Canongate, UK); Edinburgh (Constable, UK). The first is a very dry account of growing up in Edinburgh in the 1920s as the son of the city's chief rabbi. Glimpses of a lost world with its own hybrid language, Scottish Yiddish, now long vanished. A single-volume history full of entertaining material, Edinburgh is especially strong on the city's literary history.


Michael Lynch, Scotland: A New History (Pimlico, UK).


Acclaimed recent history of Scotland

Charles McKean, Edinburgh: Portrait of a City (Century o/p, UK); A short, elegantly written account of the city's history.


Eilleen Miller, The Edinburgh International Festival 1947-­1996. (Scolar Press). Dry account of the history of the Festival; includes cast lists for every major production over the period.


Sandy Mullay, The Edinburgh Encyclopedia (Mainstream, UK). For the completist, a huge amount of detail about every corner of Edinburgh's history, from the colours of school rugby shirts to listings of all the city's MPs.


Art and architecture

John Gifford, Colin McWilliam and David Walker, The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (Penguin, UK). Scholarly architectural account of the city's buildings. Critical where necessary, but full of praise for the great monuments of the Old and New Towns.


Charles McKean, Edinburgh: An Illustrated Architectural Guide (RIAS Publications). A beautifully produced, slim guide to Edinburgh's buildings, full of pertinent and judicious comments and quotations.


Duncan Macmillan, Scottish Art 1460-1990 (Mainstream). Authoritative and up-to-date guide through the history of Scottish art with all the big names receiving due attention.


Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (Barnes & Noble). This collection of beautifully-crafted vignettes couched in hyper-refined prose is considered by most experts to be the finest book ever written about Edinburgh.


A.J. Youngson, The Making of Classical Edinburgh (Edinburgh University Press; Colorado University Press). Full account, with wonderful illustrations, of the creation of the New Town.